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Alumni News: Class Years 2000-2009

Chasity Gunn ('07) Performs as First Laureate of Elgin

Thursday, January 31, 2019   (0 Comments)
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Belmont alumni and poet Chasity Gunn with her recently published book "How to Create a World." (Paul Valade | Staff Photographer)

Elgin's first poet laureate had her first official performance during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in Elgin, a suburb outside of Chicago, and got rave reviews.

"She was amazing. Riveting," said Tish Calhamer, a member of the poet laureate selection committee. "So many people asked how they could get a copy of her poem."

She is 34-year-old Chasity Gunn, a journalist-turned-poet who moved to Elgin four years ago. Gunn works for the nonprofit Youth Empowerment Program in Chicago and is an adjunct instructor in English and adult education at Judson University.

Being the city's first poet laureate is an honor, Gunn said.

"Elgin is a forward-thinking city, it is a relevant city, because they chose someone who looks like the people who live there," she said. "It's an honor to be an African-American woman and occupy this role."

Gunn describes herself as primarily "a poet of place" who writes in free verse. The poem she wrote for the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at Elgin Community College was the first one in rhyme since her college days, she said.

Gunn grew up in Alabama and worked as a newspaper reporter in Tennessee for three years. She quit in 2010 to get a master's degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from Hamline University in Minnesota.

She writes a lot about her native South -- "the way people speak ... it's like music," she says -- and Southern food, like the fried green tomatoes her mother made. She also writes portrait poetry, which aims to capture the essence of a person and, she said, comes from being a journalist.

She read and wrote a lot as a young girl and got into poetry in high school. She took a poetry class in college but didn't identify as a poet until graduate school, when she started to really study and practice the craft, she said.

"It wasn't just a hobby. I wasn't just putting words on a page and claiming it was poetry," she said.

Elgin's poet laureate appointment lasts two years and has a $1,000 yearly stipend. Gunn was selected in December among five applicants, Calhamer said.

"We felt that she had that combination of poetic ability, talent, charisma ... Her delivery of a poem, her public performance ability is right up there," she said.

The poet laureate must help bring poetry into the community, and Gunn has a lot of ideas, especially for children, Calhamer said. Gunn released a book this month called "How to Create a World" about how to use nursery rhymes as models for teaching children how to write.

"A lot of people come to poetry trying to understand poetry. But if you do that ... you're going to find yourself frustrated," Gunn said. "I don't write for people to understand what I am writing. I may be writing for the sound. I may be writing for the image."

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