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A flowering seed from the West Indies


 
Lauren-Alleyne-Honeyfish
Lauren K. Alleyne during a reading of Honeyfish, her second book of poetry, at JMU. The book asks: What does it mean to belong to a place? How does one make, find, leave and rediscover home?

SUMMARY: An award-winning poet, scholar and professor of English, Lauren K. Alleyne will assume leadership of JMU's Furious Flower Poetry Center this summer.


By Becca Evans (’18, ’20M)

A talented Trini-American writer, joyful conversationalist, and award-winning poet and scholar, Lauren K. Alleyne is highly regarded around campus. The English professor and assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center will succeed Joanne V. Gabbin as director of the center this summer. 

Alleyne didn’t start down her career path from the small, twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago with the intention of pursuing poetry, but the creativity and joy she exudes make it clear that she embraces it wholeheartedly.

Educated at all-girls private schools, Alleyne excelled in English courses but leaned toward the sciences when imagining her future. She emigrated to the U.S. and enrolled at St. Francis College in New York to pursue radiology. During her junior year, just two hours into her orientation with the radiology department at a local hospital, Alleyne realized a career in the medical field was not for her. She changed her major to English, graduated with honors, and went on to earn a master’s degree from Iowa State and then a Master of Fine Arts degree from Cornell University in creative writing. 

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Alleyne with fellow poet and professor Nikki Giovanni, of Virginia Tech, during a Furious Flower Poetry Center conference.

Like seed to flower, the journey from student to academic took place as Alleyne grew into herself, her culture and the creativity she exhibited from an early age. 

Alleyne’s first poems were calypsos written for her sister, though at the time the witty songs and melodies didn’t seem much like poetry to her. Calypso is a folk genre that speaks to topical events and social commentary, full of double entendre and sassiness, and the tradition remains a major influence in Alleyne’s work. 

“Calypso comes out of a tradition of enslaved Africans singing about the conditions of their lives, speaking back to their masters in song. It remains a part of Trinidad culture, especially around Carnival,” Alleyne said. “Calypso was my first poetic home and, in so many ways, shaped my sensibility. I’ve never been able to make sense of this discussion that happens in the American academy about whether poetry should be political.” 

For Alleyne, her poetry, trade and tradition were always political. As an immigrant and a Black woman in America, her work is an extension of the complex social systems she navigates daily. “My work is really invested in encounters,” she said. “When you bring your body to space, that space has history and you have history, and how those histories converse or conflict with each other, how they attract or repel each other, that’s what I’m interested in exploring.” 

Lauren-Alleyne-students
Photo by Deborah Miranda

The classes Alleyne teaches at JMU reflect that approach, allowing her to share her passion and unique approach to poetry. 

“I tell my students that they are in and of the world, so if they pay attention to the ways they engage the world, they’ll never run out of thoughts or feelings to write about,” she said. Her published and forthcoming works invite readers to explore Black narratives of life, expression and liberation.

Alleyne received a 2022 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, recognizing her accomplishments in teaching, research and advocacy. Honeyfish, her second poetry collection, won the 2018 Green Rose Prize, was a finalist for the 2020 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry and was nominated for the 2020 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Poetry, among other honors. Alleyne has a limited-edition chapbook launching in April with Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, an essay in a stunning collection about the experience of Black instructors in the classroom and another lyric essay in a forthcoming collection of environmental literature. 

Her work with Furious Flower is another natural extension of her creative work, and the desire to share and explore the richness of Black life — its struggles and joys. As editor-in-chief of The Fight & The Fiddle, which features Black poetry as well as critical essays about the works, she builds a resource for poets, critics and educators. When she succeeds Gabbin as the center’s director, she will inherit an immense project: a $2 million collaboration with JMU Libraries, funded by the Mellon Foundation, that will sustain, digitize and make available the extensive, 25-year archive of Black poetry videos. 

Alleyne is eager to broaden the work of Furious Flower and is full of ideas about how she can expand its efforts. She’s thought about how the center can take steps to ensure access and representation, encourage and give new poets a voice, and allow people to engage with the work at every level. In her new role as director, Alleyne is sure to leave an indelible mark on an already illustrious center. 

“It’s not a thing to own. It’s a service, it’s a community, it’s a movement,” Alleyne said. “I’m excited about adding to the legacy that’s been so lovingly and successfully built. It’s an honor.” 

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Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Last Updated: Friday, August 5, 2022

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