A professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia has had an honor that few South Carolina residents have. Dr. Kwame Dawes just returned a day ago from New York City’s Lincoln Center, where he won an Emmy Award.
During recent months, Dr. Dawes , the distinguished poet in residence at the university, made five trips to Jamaica to learn and write about the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Dawes documentary, “Hope: Living & Loving with HIV in Jamaica” is a web site–which includes poems, photos, video and music inspired by the people Dawes met.
Dawes says the project began with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and the Virginia Courtly Review, which brought in Dawes.
Dawes grew up in Jamaica. He says when he went to record interviews, that made all the difference. “I had good entry points because some of these are people I knew. Some of the people living with the disease are people I knew. It gave me an access that a reporter from the outside would not necessarily get.”
Dawes says his group was recognized, in part, for its innovation in using a website as the medium for the documentary. “The new power of the internet is presenting multi-media opportunities for news reporting. The emmy was won for something that remained deeply journalistic in its approach and intent, but was also bringing other dimentions to that journalistic instinct.”
Dawes says using the internet as a documentary form allows the viewer to come back to it repeatedly, and explore different aspects of the project.
“Unless you have something like the internet to research it, your engagement with it is different,” said Dawes. “But it brings other pressures to the way you tell the story. It allows for death of thought, but still demands the speed with which we want things on the internet. It allows these different levels of engagement.”
Dawes says the number of AIDS deaths in Jamaica dropped considerably after 2003, after the Clinton and Bush Administrations worked to get anti-viral drugs to certain countries. “That year was sort of the line against death. One of the places I was working with, they said that prior to that, they were dealing with 19 to 30 deaths per month. After that, one to two deaths per month.”
The documentary is full of heartbreaking, yet inspiring stories, including that of Rosie Stone, the wife of a prominent member of Jamaican society, who gave the disease to his wife of many years. After he died, she then wrote a book about it.
“That is startling to the society to say that this highly-positioned woman is living with HIV/ AID,” said Dawes. “So it’s not just people who are nothing to other people, people considered dregs on the street. You cannot cut yourself off and say that it does not happen to me.”
And Dawes says Jamaica and South Carolina actually have in common their level of cultural conservatism toward the disease, an apprehension of dealing with sexual issues.
Check out Dawes’ award-winning site at www.livehopelove.com.
Dawes teaches poetry and English classes and directs USC’s Arts Institute and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative.