Joshua Bennett


Joshua Bennett is an American writer and professor born in Yonkers, New York. Bennett’s academic performance in middle school earned him a scholarship to a choice private high school, where he was one of very few Black students. He would spend four hours every school day commuting on the bus and train–time he would spend reading, nurturing his growing passion for literature. Bennett’s impressive academic resume is made up of a dual BA in English and Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania (where he graduated magna cum laude), a Theatre Performance Studies M. from the University of Warwick that he earned as a Marshall scholar in the U.K., and an MA and PhD in English from Princeton University. Bennett was a junior fellow at Harvard University and a visiting lecturer at schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pittsburgh before becoming a professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth University, where he currently works. Bennett’s academic research focus is broad and covers topics such as African American literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, Black poetics, and environmental studies. His personal writing and poetry pulls from his knowledge of African American history and literary tradition and explores topics of race and class, with his experiences navigating being a Black student in a majority white high school and a Black professor in a historically white industry also holding much relevance in his writing. He has made appearances to perform his work at the White House for President Barack Obama, the Sundance Film Festival, and at the NAACP Image Awards, where he was a finalist for his poetry. Bennett is the author of two collections of poetry, The Sobbing School (2016) and Owed (2020), and a book of literary criticism titled Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man (2020). Source

Photo Credit: Kathy Ryan


Owed to Pedagogy

For 1995


It was the dead center of summer,

& anyone but us would’ve been

outside hours ago, flailing


like a system of larks against

the hydrant’s icy spray. But a girl

had her orders, & to disobey


our mother was, in a sense, to invite

one’s own destruction, cause to pray

that a god of mercy might strike first.


So we lay, still as stars on the living

room floor, poring over algorithms:

divisors & dividends, quotient


the first synonym for resolution

I ever learned, & would later

come to love for its sound alone,


how it reminded me, even then,

of words like quantum & quotation

mark, both ways of saying nothing


means what you think it means

all the time. The observable

universe hides behind its smooth


obsidian dress, & all we can

do is grasp at it in myths

& figures, see what sticks,


give all our best language

to the void. What dark irony,

these coy, child philosophers,


theorizing how things break

from the floor of a house

where everything is more


or less in flux, indeterminate

as the color of the blood

in a body. Or the speed


at which I learned

to obliterate the distance

between myself


& any given boy

on the block, the optimal

angle of the swing


most likely to drop

another kid cold

in front of his crew,


to square up, square

off, & this too was a kind

of education, the way


my sister held both fists

semi-adjacent, each an inch

or so from her switchblade


eyes, showed me

the stance you take

when the math doesn’t


quite shake out, so it’s just

you & the unknowns

& the unknowns


never win.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:



Childhood & Coming of Age

Education & Learning

Memory & The Past

Poetic Form

Literary Devices:


a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing


a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”