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California Poet Laureate Muske-Dukes at the National Mall

Carol Muske-Dukes, USC Dornsife professor of English and creative writing, will read from Twin Cities and Crossing State Lines: An American Renga during the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes of USC Dornsife is among five state poet laureates nationwide who will read from their recent works at the 11th annual National Book Festival to be held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23 to 25. Photo by Carlos Puma.
California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes of USC Dornsife is among five state poet laureates nationwide who will read from their recent works at the 11th annual National Book Festival to be held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23 to 25. Photo by Carlos Puma.

USC Dornsife’s Carol Muske-Dukes, California’s poet laureate, will read from her two most recent books during the 11th annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, to be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23 to 25.

President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are honorary chairs for the event.

“I've given readings at the Library of Congress in the past, and was included in a small group of poets invited to the Clinton White House some years ago,” said Muske-Dukes, professor of English and creative writing. “But the idea of reading on the National Mall is simply dazzling and I hope that I will manage to read well and make my Mom proud.”

Muske-Dukes credits her mother, Elsie Muske, 95, who recited poetry to her daughter beginning in childhood, for her inspiration as a poet.

On Sunday, Sept. 25, at 4:40 p.m., Muske-Dukes will read from Twin Cities (Penguin Publishing, 2011), her eighth book of poems, and Crossing State Lines: An American Renga (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), which she co-edited with Bob Holman. Her book signing will take place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

The free festival is a whirlwind of readings by authors such as Toni Morrison and David McCullough, and special events including “The Joys of Reading Aloud,” held at the Young Reader’s Center at the Library of Congress in the historic Thomas Jefferson Building. Prior to the festival, The Washington Post will publish a special edition outlining the festival and quoting authors. The print edition will be accompanied by an online version.

There will also be many receptions. The first evening of the festival, Friday, Sept. 23, an authors’ program will be followed by a “Gala Reception” at the Library of Congress. The following morning, The Washington Post will host an authors’ breakfast, then the readings will begin on the National Mall. On Saturday night, a private reception will be held by invitation only. Muske-Dukes was invited, listed on the invitation as a “special guest.”

“I feel very lucky to have been invited,” Muske-Dukes said. “I’m honored to be reading at the festival and participating in the authors’ events. Twin Cities was recently reviewed very well in The Washington Post, so that was a nice ‘welcome’ to D.C., too. I plan to wear a USC T-shirt — just need to find one that fits right!”

In Twin Cities, Muske-Dukes uses her birthplace as the metaphor developed throughout the book of poetry. She was born in St. Paul, Minn. Across the Mississippi River is Minneapolis, and together they are known as Twin Cities.

“It’s the idea of the two, the twins, the doubling of the self — the divided soul — two coasts, two minds, two souls,” she said. “Yet linked.”

In An American Renga, 54 United States poets collaborated on a single poem about America. The practice is known as renga, an ancient Japanese tradition of “conversation” poetry in which one poet writes his or her lines then passes it on to the next.

“It’s a phenomenon — gathering energy all its own,” Muske-Dukes said. “Lots of press — Robert Hass, Lt. Col. Ed Ledford and I — were on Morning Edition on NPR and featured in The Huffington Post. Bob Holman and I are being hosted by The Poetry Foundation in Chicago on Oct. 11th. A film, through Plan B films, Brad Pitt’s indie arm, was made of the Renga poets each reading his or her contribution and it will be screened at the foundation on that date — with Eric Fischl and America: Now and Here in attendance.”