Graywolf poet Elizabeth Alexander to read at Obama’s inauguration

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Graywolf Press announced tonight that its author Elizabeth Alexander will read an original poem at Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington next month. Graywolf will publish a special chapbook featuring Alexander’s poem. The news is a major coup for the respected St. Paul publishing house. Obama’s invitation will make Alexander only the fourth poet in U.S. history to speak at a presidential inauguration; her predecessors are Robert Frost (John F. Kennedy), Maya Angelou (Bill Clinton), and Miller Williams (also Clinton).

Alexander is a scholar of African-American literature as well as a poet. Recently a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—the research arm that yielded Harvard’s first female president, Drew Gilipin Faust—Alexander is a faculty member at Yale University. Her publications with Graywolf include the critical work Black Interior and poetry collections Venus Hottentot and American Sublime, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize.

The affinity between Obama and Alexander, both pedigreed intellectuals with the ability to communicate across lines of class and race, is unsurprising. “Elizabeth Alexander,” wrote The New York Times Book Review, “creates intellectual magic in poem after poem.”

Jay Gabler (jay@tcdailyplanet.net) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.

Correction 12/18: Elizabeth Alexander was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute during the 2007-8 academic year, not the current academic year as this article originally stated.