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Lauren Russell

Research Assistant Professor
Assistant Director, Center for African American Poetry and Poetics

Lauren Russell is the author of What’s Hanging on the Hush (Ahsahta Press, 2017), and Descent, a winner of the 2019 Tarpaulin Sky Book Awards and a finalist for the National Poetry Series, forthcoming from Tarpaulin Sky Press in 2020. A 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry, she has received fellowships and residencies from Cave Canem, The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, VIDA/The Home School, the Rose O’Neill Literary House, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and City of Asylum. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazineboundary 2, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, The Brooklyn RailjubilatCream City Review, and Bettering American Poetry 2015, among others. 


At Pitt, Lauren regularly teaches the Studio in African American Poetry and Poetics (ENGWRT 1245/ AFRCNA 1245), a course in interdisciplinary making. In the Spring semester, she leads the Practicum in Community Teaching (ENGWRT 2905) in conjunction with the Veterans’ Writing Workshop held on an impatient behavioral health unit of Pittsburgh’s VA hospital.


Lauren’s creative work often resists traditional genre divisions and is engaged in a continuous process of reimagining what a poem can be and do. She writes on the Humanities Center’sCreativities Project webpage;


I am Assistant Director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP), which is concerned with a practice-based poetics, where creating is a way of working through questions to arrive at new ideas. This is also a useful way of thinking about my practice as a poet and worker in hybrid forms. As a maker of poems, I believe in following what the poem wants, engaging in wide-ranging experimentation with language across genre, form, medium, sound, and space. Sometimes this means working in three-dimensional structures. Or ceding the page entirely and recording only audio. Or taking voice lessons so that I may better use the possibilities of breath. I recently completed the manuscript of my second book, Descent. The project began when I acquired a copy of the diary of my great-great-grandfather, Robert Wallace Hubert, who was Captain in the Confederate Army. After the end of the Civil War, he returned to East Texas and fathered children by three of his former slaves, who were also sisters. As I transcribed the 225-page diary, I became interested in its omissions and determined to write into the space of what is missing. I also wanted to imagine the lives and voices of my great-great-grandmother Peggy and her sisters, black women who have been silenced by history. As I have said in many statements, the result is at once “an investigation, a reclamation, and an instance of making history as a creative act.” In Descent as in all my work as a poet experimentalist, I care about creativity less as a mode of production than as a site of discovery through risk.

Revised 07/29/2020
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