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UniVerse of Free Expression: A Celebration of International Poetry

UniVerse of Poetry readings and showcases commend individuals who demonstrate a consistent dedication and integrity of vision, humanity, innovation and artistry in their writing, increasing the dialogue and significance of poetry within a greater society, nationally and internationally.

In celebration of this purpose, this historic event, hosted in collaboration with Chicago Public Radio, features:

Ofelia Zepeda - an enrolled member of the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona, grew up in a rural cotton farming community near the reservation.  She represents the Tohono O'odham Nation on UniVerse.  The first of her family to attend school, she received her Master's degree and Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Arizona where she is now Regent's Professor.  Ofelia published the first written grammar of the Tohono O'odham language and preserves this language in many of her poems, which are collected in several award-winning books, including, Where Clouds Are Formed, Jewed ‘I hoi/ Earth Movements and Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert

Fady Joudah - an award-winning poet, translator and physician.  He is a UniVerse representative of Palestine. His first book, The Earth in the Attic, won the 2008 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and his translations of three recent volumes of poetry by his mentor, revered Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, are collected in The Butterfly's Burden, which won the prestigious Banipal Translation Prize.  Born in Austin, TX, in a Palestinian refugee home, Fady is a physician of internal medicine and a field member of Doctors Without Borders.  This experience informs many of his poems, giving them rare insights into the human condition.

Kwame Dawes - first and foremost a poet, but also a musician, lyricist and playwrite; a Reggae scholar; author of two novels, distinguished Poet in Residence and executive Director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.  The author of 13 books of poetry, he represents Jamaica and Ghana on UniVerse. Kwame was born in Ghana and spent most of his childhood and early adult life in Jamaica. In 2007, he was funded by the Pulitzer Center to return to Jamaica to write about the AIDS crisis there.  He honors the people and caregivers battling the disease with a series of poems available at

Valzhyna Mort - born in Minsk, Belarus, made her American debut in 2008 with the poetry collection, Factory of Tears, which was published by Copper Canyon Press.  Mort received the Crystal of Vilenica award in Slovenia in 2005 and the Burda Poetry Prize in Germany in 2008.  She writes of her home country and language, and explores familial and existential themes with a refreshing directness and intensity that allow her to pivot swiftly from the concrete to the surreal, from the personal to the shared human experience.  You can read more about her and her work here.

With a special screening and live scoring of an excerpt of “War Rug,” a film and poem by Francesco Levato with an original score by Richard Fammeree.

The event also included a remembrance of Nadia Anjoman, a young Afghani poet and mother who was murdered in 2005 for having published her poetry. Nadia Anjoman represents Afghanistan on UniVerse of Poetry.  She wrote tirelessly, studied literature secretly, and published her first book, The Smokey Flower, while living under Taliban rule when she was 25 years old.  For this act of courage, she was beaten to death.

Hosted by Richard Fammerée, poet and founding director of UniVerse of Poetry, and Rachel Jamison Webster, celebrated poet, artist-in-residence at Northwestern University, and the editor-in-chief of UniVerse of Poetry.


Recorded Friday, February 13, 2009 at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts.

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