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Dr. Joshua Bennett

Award-winning poet and scholar of the spoken word

Joshua Bennett Performs at the White House Poetry Jam
  • About Joshua Bennett

    An award-winning poet, performer, and professor at MIT, Dr. Joshua Bennett has taken to the stage at the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. His collection, The Study of Human Life, addresses issues such as abolition, Black ecological consciousness, and the boundless promise of parenthood. The Study of Human Life also features Dr. Bennett’s “The Book of Mycah,” a novella currently being adapted for television in partnership with Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions and Warner Brothers Studios.

    Perfect for community reads, colleges, libraries, and more, Dr. Bennett’s engaging conversations and keynotes on Black history, education, and poetry underscore the historical importance of the literary arts, the connection between artmaking and racial and environmental justice, and his personal journey as a poet, scholar, and educator. He has taught creative writing workshops across the United States to students from middle schools to colleges and universities, often emphasizing (and diving into) the treasure troves of local archives.

    Dr. Bennett’s debut book, The Sobbing School, is a mesmerizing collection of poetry that examines and reinvents representations of black history and the contemporary black experience. This debut collection was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award and a National Poetry Series selection. He is also the author of Being Property Once Myself—an incisive work of literary criticism—and of Owed, a poetry collection that celebrates the everyday miracle of black social life in the United States.

    His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Best American PoetryThe New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review, among other publications. His upcoming Spoken Word: A Cultural History (May 2023) is a fascinating history of an art form that has transformed the cultural landscape. Dr. Joshua Bennett also recently curated The Bond of Live Things Everywhere for the New York Botanical Gardens, a season-long installation that explored the bond between the pursuit of freedom and stewardship of the Earth.

    Dr. Joshua Bennett earned an M.A. in theater and performance studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, MIT, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He lives in Boston.

    Contact us for more information about bringing Dr. Joshua Bennett to your next event.

  • Speaking Topics

    Artificial Eloquence

    In what sense, and in what situations, do our voices belong to us? And how might the presence, and processing power, of large language models alter the way we approach this question? In this powerful talk, MIT professor and award-winning author, Dr. Joshua Bennett, will explore the ways that our present discourse around machine learning and artificial intelligence both echoes and obscures various arguments throughout the 20th century—especially in the worlds of philosophy, law, and literature—surrounding the dignity, and transcendent meaning, of the human voice.

    The Hidden History of Black Environmentalism and Thought

    From Fredrick Douglass to Lucille Clifton, Joshua Bennett shares the often-overlooked history of African American writers’ contributions to environmental thought. In this educational and moving talk he explores the speeches, sermons, poems, plays, and songs of Black writers from the 19th century to the present, underlining how they act as calls-to-action for planetary stewardship. In what he’s termed "Black ecological consciousness," Bennett unpacks how these forms are rooted in an intimacy with the living environment.

    The Life of the Spoken Word

    Spoken word has always been a gathering space for the marginalized. From the 1960s to its current heyday, many of the most prominent figures in the modern spoken word poetry movement have been black and brown poets, a number of whom have turned to the form to expand our social and political imaginations. In this talk, Dr. Bennett explores the past and present influence of spoken word poetry, as well as its intersections with other forms of oratory. By exploring these genres in conjunction, he investigates the relationship between public acts of passionate utterance and our collective desire for a more just, equitable future.

    Poetry for the People

    What do poems make possible? What necessary lessons can poems teach us not only about language, but about how to treat each other? How do poems grant us insight into ways we can better care for the planet, and every living thing held within its breadth? This lecture will explore the public works of writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, June Jordan, and others in the name of clarifying how their public projects help us better understand the work of racial and environmental justice today.

    An Evening with Joshua Bennett

    Poet and Professor Dr. Joshua Bennett will share original work from his first three collections of poems—The Sobbing School, Owed, and The Study of Human Life—while also offering reflections on the craft of storytelling, the power of the spoken word, and his own journey as a writer and educator.

  • Video

  • Praise for Joshua Bennett

    Praise for Spoken Word

    This marvelous and magnificent book on the recent past and present of Spoken Word touches hearts and minds in a soulful way! Bennett’s beautiful prose and powerful stories glow from his early Black Church origins, through his Ivy-league education, grassroots poetic formation to his precious son August Galileo listening to Coltrane! Don’t miss this superb laying bare of Black joy and genius!

    Cornel West

    Joshua Bennett, one of the genre’s most exciting and knowledgeable writers, provides a wide-ranging cultural history of this form in his new book Spoken Word (Knopf). It’s a story that takes him from the Obama White House to Broadway to street corners and cafés across the country to hear the song of America.

    Ron Charles, CBS News

    In this immersive blend of cultural history and memoir, poet Bennett (The Sobbing School) traces the development of spoken-word poetry from the Black Arts Movement to the present day. . . Bennett’s enthusiasm for the subject leaps off the page, highlighting the resilience and adaptability of poetry and making clear how important the collective is to its progress. It’s a spirited introduction to a vibrant art form.

    Publishers Weekly

    Praise for The Study of Human Life

    [Features] a multifaceted prose-poem of striking depth and originality . . . Though Bennett’s poems seem effortless in their lyric grace and organic progressions, they are better described as effortful, given memorable presence by their intimacy, mindful craft, and visionary pursuit. Expect this work to appear on many ‘best poetry’ lists for 2022.

    Library Journal (starred review)

    Praise for Owed

    Themes of praise and debt pervade this rhapsodic, rigorous poetry collection, which pays homage to everyday Black experience in the U.S. . . . Bennett conjures a spirit of kinship that, illuminated by redolent imagery, borders on mythic, and boldly stakes claim to ‘some living, future / English, & everyone in it / is immortal.’

    The New Yorker

    Bennett captures the beauty of what really matters in life—the memories, youth sports, family traditions and little moments that many of us take for granted . . . [Owed] couldn’t have been more timely.


    Not only are these poems eloquent but also lyrical, intelligent, and, occasionally, funny. Most reflect upon and communicate the pain, joy, and intensity of the current Black experience . . . In a time when many confront and protest the racism prevalent in our society, Bennett’s new book is vital.

    Library Journal (starred review)

    [Owed] intertwines the author’s multifaceted professions as poet, performer, and professor through powerful, crisp poems that celebrate the complexity, joy, and heartbreak of the Black experience in America . . . Bennett’s poems are more necessary than ever.

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    [A]stonishing poems that explore the past, childhood, family relationships, identity, and memory among many other themes, all expertly rendered through a mixture of forms . . . [Bennett] has a gift for building and setting vivid scenes and complex stories within the small frames of his stanzas.


    We’re lucky to have Joshua Bennett’s Owed at this hour in America. The resonances of ‘ode’ and ‘owed’ underscore his tremendous acts of invention amid ‘an ever-expanding grand Black Epilogue.’ Lyrical and political fibers are woven through narratives as clear and idiosyncratic as the plastic on your grandmother’s couch. Owed fights for the ‘ground where the children can play and come home whole.’ Bennett swings with song and exaltation; he swings with resistance and defense. I’m glad to have his amazing collection right now. I will be glad to have it tomorrow.

    Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

    Owed is an indictment of the state even as it is an ode to the ongoingness of Black imagination. Here, a single moment shimmers with a million resonances of attention. So the world is loved this much. And what has been taken has been taken this much. Bennett insists on repair even as he mourns what is utterly irreparable. This book is part of a breathful, bodied fight for Black life. I am emboldened and sharpened by Bennett’s genius and by his love made plain across each of these shimmering pages.

    Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria

    Praise for Being Property Once Myself

    In intense and illuminating reevaluation of black literature and Western thought.

    Ron Charles, Washington Post

    A gripping work…Bennett’s lyrical lilt in his sharp analyses makes for a thorough yet accessible read.

    LSE Review of Books

    Tremendously illuminating…Bennett’s refreshing and field-defining approach shows how both classic and contemporary African American authors undo long-held assumptions of the animal–human divide.

    Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery

    Praise for The Sobbing School

    In his scintillating debut, Bennett raises a crucial question about the writing of African-American experience: how can one convey the enormity of black suffering without reducing black life and expression to elegy? . . . At its heart, Bennett’s sharp collection is an ode to family, friendship and culture that neither pulls punches nor withholds sentiment.

    Publishers Weekly

    Bennett is one of the most impressive voices in poetry today. . .he is also quietly building a reputation as one the brightest intellectual and political thinkers of a new generation.

    Jesse McCarthy, Dissent Magazine

    ’Who can be alive today/and not study grief,’ Joshua Bennett asks in this arresting debut. Yet these poems are no study in grief. Abounding in tenderness and rich with character, these are no quaint lyrics. They leap into our lives, engaging, crackling with wit and intelligence. It’s one of Bennett’s unique gifts—a virtuosic kind of code switching—to deliver a civil tone of I’d rather you didn’t, while we know what he means is, more provocatively, I wish you would.

    Gregory Pardlo

    At a moment in American culture punctuated to a heartbreaking degree by acts of hatred, violence and disregard, I can think of nothing we need to ponder and to sing of more than our shared grief and our capacity not just for empathy but genuine love. Poetry is critical to such an endeavor—and Joshua Bennett’s astounding, dolorous, rejoicing voice is indispensable.

    Tracy K. Smith

    At the heart of Joshua Bennett’s debut collection lies grief, but his poems also pay tribute to the human will to endure. There are glimpses here of James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston where Bennett’s syntactical dexterity and feeling for language meet the rhythm and flow of dangerous music. His poems of identity are also poems of imagery and invention, and they testify to poetry’s endless mutability through story and song, lament and praise. The Sobbing School is an essential book for our times.

    Eugene Gloria
  • Books by Joshua Bennett

  • Media About Joshua Bennett

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  • Joshua Bennett travels from Boston, Massachusetts

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