From The Root:
The selection of Yale professor and poet Elizabeth Alexander to write and deliver a poem at the inauguration of Barack Obama marks not only the return of poetry to a place of prominence in presidential history (she is only the fourth to read at a presidential swearing-in), but represents a true mind-meld between the president-elect and his chosen bard. Professor Alexander is a virtuosic writer and a shrewd analyst of American letters, a polyglot who moves fluently from essay to sonnet, from free verse to drama—and in her teaching, traces equally diverse themes. As the big day approaches, it’s hard to tell who will serve as muse to whom—Alexander and Obama share ties to Chicago and to the classroom, and a demonstrated commitment to the power of words and of community institutions.
I recently caught up with my former teacher to discuss her work and the now-finished poem she will deliver at Tuesday’s ceremony.
The Root: Congratulations! How were you chosen for the honor? Who called who?
Elizabeth Alexander: I actually don’t know! You’d have to ask the inaugural committee what happened. I just got a phone call saying that they were asking me to write a poem and deliver it. It was a tremendous thrill. Kind of like Sarah Palin, I didn’t even think about saying no.
I think one of the really exciting things about the Obama campaign and his election is that so many more people than in the past have felt called to serve, have felt that they needed to step up their game, do what they could. You know, not much has been asked of us in the last eight years—now is the time. So I thought that this question was a continuation of the same mission we heard expressed on the campaign trail.