MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2014

Terrance Hayes

Poet

Professor of Writing, Department of English

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Age: 42 at time of award

Published September 17, 2014

Terrance Hayes is a poet who reflects on race, gender, and family in works marked by formal dexterity and a reverence for history and the artistry of crafting verse. Employing an almost improvisational approach to writing, Hayes conjoins fluid, often humorous wordplay with references to popular culture both past and present in his subversion of canonical poetic forms.

In a series of “blue” poems for his collection Wind in a Box (2006), he both references and eschews the standard tropes and forms of blues poetry by speaking in the persona of such figures as Jorge Luis Borges, David Bowie, and Strom Thurmond. “The Blue Seuss” is both a satiric embodiment of Seussian rhymes and styles and a condensed, heart-wrenching history of the African American experience, from the Middle Passage to contemporary urban decay. Hayes continues his exploration of the shifting nature of identity in Lighthead (2010), which includes a mixture of constructed and historical personages and ranges over a multitude of experiences. The imagery of “Carp Poem,” ostensibly an account of teaching a poetry workshop in a New Orleans prison, seamlessly moves back and forth from the reality of the prison to the confinement of slavery and Hayes’s personal relationship with his father, who is a prison guard.

His formally daring poem “Arbor for Butch” plays off of pecha kucha, a Japanese business presentation format in which twenty images connected to a single theme are narrated for twenty seconds each. Using the sculptures of Martin Puryear as his images, Hayes links the visual with the sonic and the lyrical in an affecting consideration of what it means to be a father and a son. In creating works that seamlessly and meaningfully encompass both the historical and the personal, Hayes is extending the possibilities of language and pushing the art of poetry toward places altogether new.

Terrance Hayes received a B.A. (1994) from Coker College and an M.F.A. (1997) from the University of Pittsburgh. He was affiliated with Xavier University of Louisiana (1999–2001) and Carnegie Mellon University (2001–2013) before joining the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh as a professor of writing in 2013. His additional publications include Muscular Music (1999), Hip Logic (2002), and the forthcoming How to Be Drawn (March 2015).

Photos

High-resolution photos for download. Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.

For More Information

Website: terrancehayes.com

Terrance Hayes In the Media

21 Extraordinarily Creative People Who Inspire Us All: Meet the 2014 MacArthur Fellows thumbnail

21 Extraordinarily Creative People Who Inspire Us All: Meet the 2014 MacArthur Fellows

“Those who think creativity is dying should examine the life’s work of these extraordinary innovators who work in diverse fields and in different ways to improve our lives...” Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program. Read More
"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’" thumbnail

"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’"

Commentary by Cecilia Conrad originally published in the Washington Post Read More
Mobility Among Highly Creative People: What Data About MacArthur Fellows Reveal thumbnail

Mobility Among Highly Creative People: What Data About MacArthur Fellows Reveal

Data compiled for the first time show that creativity blossoms everywhere; MacArthur Fellows were born in 64 countries, 47 states, and Washington, DC, and they are far more mobile than the general population. Read More