Surrounded by the written words of writers and poets past, Sean Hill read his own works to an attentive crowd in the Cowles Library Reading Room on Monday.
Hill took the podium with a casual “hello” after a robust introduction of his many fellowships and grants. He launched into reading from his 2008 poetry book, which is called “Blood Ties and Brown Liquor.”
“This is a poem about names — labels — and the importance we place on them,” Hill said during the reading of his opening poem.
The poems are based on Hill’s hometown of Milledgeville, Ga. Inspired by his grandmother’s stories, Hill set out to lyrically tell the area’s history. Much of the book is told from the life and times of fictional character Silas Wright.
“The name just came to me,” Hill said of the inspiration behind the character’s moniker. “The character insisted on it.”
The book reflects heavily on the perspective of being black in the south in the early to mid- 1900s. Hill read his tales with an outwardly strong emotional background. An example was the piece “Insurance Man 1964,” which is based off the lynching of four people in Monroe, La.
Hill also read some pieces about his new home in the small town of Bemidji, Minn. He was given a grant to go to a place, observe and write. He found adventures in the North, such as tapping syrup and ice fishing, as inspiration.
“Some ideas just kind of present themselves,” Hill said. “History and everyday life and the line at the grocery store and things I overhear capture my attention.”
A book in five parts is in the works for Hill, continuing his focus on the concept of home and place.
Melisa Klimaszewski, assistant professor of English, organized Hill’s appearance. She said that she felt strongly that Drake would benefit from his visit.
“I think the way his poetry honors connections between the past and the present is really important and true to how a lot of us experience the world,” Klimaszewski said.
Students and professors alike were seen with the colorful book cover.
“I came because I wanted to hear how he writes from a time he never was, but (he) was very aware of what went on,” Ben Hoffman, senior secondary education and writing major, said.
Hill was the first of the 2011 Writers and Critics Series. The series is sponsored by the Drake English Department and made possible by the Drake Center for the Humanities. The 2011 spring semester welcomed Mohan Sikka and Keetje Kuipers among others.
Look to the Drake website for upcoming sessions. Those interested in poetry are invited to the upcoming Younger American Poets Reading Series at 7 p.m. next Thursday at Beaverdale Books.