Len Lawson

Len Lawson '02
Irmo, South Carolina
Business Administration - Management
Assistant Professor of English, Newberry College

Growing up in rural South Carolina, Len Lawson ’02 said his town of Bamberg was bonded by hospitality but divided by race.

The assistant professor of English at Newberry College said the experience, along with his relationship to nature and the environment, dominated his early poetry. “As I matured and began to observe how race affects every aspect of American life, I wrote more about the oppression, systemic racism and violence imposed on African Americans,” Lawson said.

His graduate degrees in the humanities helped him translate the world around him. 

“Understanding the past gave me a clearer vision for the present and future. History and literature are so closely related, and learning about other cultures humbles you into understanding your place as a global citizen,” Lawson said. “The humanities govern much of my scholarly and literary pursuits today.”

Unfortunately, in this present culture, he said, the humanities have become endangered since students aspire to practical occupations that yield higher salaries more quickly. However, while other fields can get you a job, the humanities sustain you in whatever job you get. “Once I make the humanities relevant for my own students, they realize how significant humanities topics really are,” Lawson said.

Lawson’s striking poetry and poetry advocacy earned him a 2022 Fresh Voices in the Humanities Award from the S.C. Humanities Council.

The Fresh Voices award recognizes “individuals who are working in unique and innovative ways to use culture and history to bring people together, but whose efforts may have gone relatively unnoticed beyond their own community.”

Lawson is the author of “Negro Asylum for the Lunatic Insane” (Main Street Rag, 2023), “Chime” (Get Fresh Books, 2019) and “Before the Night Wakes You” (Finishing Line Press, 2017). He has also edited two poetry collections, “Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race” (Muddy Ford Press, 2017) and “The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry” (Blair Press, 2021).

Lawson currently serves on the board of directors for the Jasper Project, a Columbia-area nonprofit that promotes and celebrates local artists in all disciplines. Some of the organization’s projects include pop-up art shows, writer readings and a quarterly arts magazine.

“I'm proud to have initiated a South Carolina poetry chapbook prize for poets of color in the name of poet and teacher the late Lizelia Augusta Jenkins Moorer,” he said. “It is challenging work to magnify the arts in South Carolina, but nonprofit organizations like Jasper answer the call.”

One of Lawson’s latest projects is to encourage Governor Henry McMaster to name a poet laureate. South Carolina has been without a poet laureate for the past three years. The current governor has not done so, even though names have been submitted.

Lawson has organized an April rally for the appointment of the next poet laureate, which is an honorary position. “South Carolina has a rich tradition of former poets laureate,” he said. “I'm advocating for that arts and poetry tradition to continue.”

At Winthrop during the late 1990s, Lawson found a humble community vibe that attracted him. He was able to mature in this new environment unlike the town in which he grew up. “Winthrop felt like home to me from the beginning, and I embraced Rock Hill beyond my graduation,” Lawson said. 

He continued in academics, earning a master’s degree from National University and then a Ph.D. in English literature and criticism from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He returned to the Winthrop campus to speak at the 2023 Movement Conference about the 21st Century Afrofuturism Movement. 

His advice to poets and writers is to continue to hone their craft but also take time to strengthen their mental health. “Although not every publisher and journal will accept your work, it is healthy to feel disappointed, but a good support system of writers and healthy mental practices will allow you to deal with the rejections in a constructive way,” Lawson said.