Alumnus Profile - Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes

Alumnus Profile
Terrance Hayes

As a child, nationally acclaimed poet Terrance Hayes never considered studying poetry, much less having a career in it.

The 1994 Coker College alumnus currently serves as a Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh. Hayes, a first-generation college graduate, tested many avenues before selecting his path.

“College may be the only time a student has so many avenues to knowledge before him or her,” said Hayes, a Columbia, S.C, native. “I say, let a foot touch as many avenues as possible before settling on a path.”

Hayes credits Coker’s Professor Emerita of English Lois Gibson for setting him on the path to Pittsburgh, where he first studied poetry.

“It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say Dr. Gibson influenced my life tremendously as a teacher, advocate and friend,” he said. “In the most literal and essential sense, I would not be in Pittsburgh were it not for Dr. Gibson.”

Gibson encouraged Hayes to study writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Terrance was already a poet when he was a student at Coker,” she recalled. “His work has become deeper and more impressive over time.”

After earning a master’s degree from Pitt in 1997, Hayes taught in southern Japan, Columbus, Ohio, and New Orleans, La., before returning to Pittsburgh in 2006 to become one of CMU’s youngest full professors.

“My interactions with my professors at Coker foreshadowed my interactions with my students at Carnegie Mellon,” he said. “The round table learning style at Coker made interactions with my teachers and classmates personal and engaging. I try to replicate this style in my own teaching by arranging desks in a circle before every class.”

While at Coker, Hayes explored subject matter from various fields such as philosophy, art history and theater and earned a bachelor’s degree in English. As an Academic All-American on the men’s basketball team, he doubled as an athlete and a student.

“Coach Dan Schmotzer and my teammates always supported my artsy side,” Hayes said. “I learned how to be a learner and how to be a member of a community. It was a true liberal arts education. I was exposed to ideas and subjects that continue to fuel my poems.”

And his poems recently fueled his way to a ceremony in New York City where he was awarded the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry for his most recent book, “Lighthead.”

“The deservedly acclaimed Hayes returns in his fourth book with the kinds of sly, twisting, hip, jazzy poems his fans have come to expect, but also with a new somberness of tone and mature caution,” reported a Publishers Weekly review of “Lighthead.”

“Wind In a Box,” his third book, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, was named one of the Best Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly, whose reviewer wrote: “in his hip, funny, yet no less high-stakes third collection, Hayes solidifies his reputation as one of the best poets – African American or otherwise – now writing.”

Hayes’ second book, “Hip Logic” (2002), was a National Poetry Series selection and a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. His first book, “Muscular Music” (1999), won both a Whiting Writers’ Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

Hayes' other honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a profile on PBS’s “NewsHour” with Jim Lehrer and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His new poems are forthcoming in the New Yorker, the 2010 “Best American Poetry” and the 2011 “Pushcart Prize Anthology.”

And what does the award-winning poet and prestigious professor do when his students ask him for the formula to success?

“It ain’t math, I tell them. The writer Flannery O’Connor said that ‘In fiction, two plus two is always more than four.’ The same is true for all of the arts.

“And probably for life.”

For more information, contact Ashley Simatic - 843.383.8018



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