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Inaugural Poet to Speak at Duke

Elizabeth Alexander has published five books of poems and will become chair of Yale's Department of African American Studies in July 2009.

"In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light."

Capturing the essence of the moment, Elizabeth Alexander read these words from her poem, "Praise Song for the Day," at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Only the fourth poet in history to read at a presidential swearing-in, Alexander will bring her lyrical talents to Duke this month for a reading and reception at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, at the Nasher Museum of Art.

The event, sponsored by Duke's Office of the President, the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the departments of English and of African and African American Studies, is free and open to the public.

A poet, essayist, playwright and professor of African American Studies at Yale University, Alexander teaches courses on African-American poetry, drama and 20th century literature. As an undergraduate student at Yale, she studied with Duke President Richard Brodhead, who taught in Yale's English department for more than three decades. The relationship between Brodhead and Alexander, as well as her acclaim for being chosen as the inaugural poet, sparked the invitation for her speech at Duke.

"With our emphasis at Duke on the arts and President Brodhead's own personal history as a humanist, we are really interested in bringing the best and most interesting artists and writers to campus in highly visible events," said Christina Chia, assistant director for programs and communications at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute.

Chia said that as a scholar, poet and author of critical essays, Alexander is appealing to those interested in English, African American studies and the humanities generally.

"Given Professor Alexander's interest in American history and the way that she weaves history into her poetry which people got a taste of in the inaugural poem we thought that this was the right moment for this event," Chia said.

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