[Winter 2015] Commentary

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S E Y A H E T ER R A NC g ra nt re cip ie nt on r hu rt A ac M d an or, The p oe t, p ro fe ss fo llow you r b li ss wh at it mea n s to

Terrance Hayes '94 is often asked for advice. When you’re an award-winning poet teaching college classes in creative writing, it kind of comes with the territory. His favorite response is short: “Follow your bliss.” It’s a popular Joseph Campbell quote, and those three simple words really resonate with Hayes. “If you do the thing you love, success will always follow,” he says. “Of course,” he adds, “you’ve got to really love it.”


So far, it seems this philosophy has served him well. A professor of creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, Hayes is also the author of four award-winning poetry anthologies. His second, Hip Logic, won the 2001 National Poetry Series and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, while his latest, Lighthead, won the National Book Award for Poetry. His other honors include a Whiting Writer's Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Most recently, Hayes was one of 20 to receive a coveted MacArthur grant—one of the most prestigious individual development grants in the world. Informally called “genius grants,” they’re awarded each year by the The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to individuals who show promising creativity. Along with prestige, each grant comes with $625,000. Despite decades of success as a poet, the MacArthur was a shock for Hayes. The thing is, he never really planned on becoming a poet. “Poet” is only one of his many identities. Poet, painter, professor, son, husband, father—of all his descriptors, perhaps the most accurate would be “artist.” Hayes may not have always been a poet (in fact, hardly anyone even knew he wrote poems until his first book was published). But he has always felt the need to be expressive. “I really didn’t think about how I was being expressive,” he says. “I just wanted to be expressive.” Born in Columbia, SC, Hayes came to Coker on a basketball scholarship and studied visual art for three years before switching his major to English at the last minute. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1994, becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. “He was always very inquisitive,” says Dan Schmotzer, head men’s basketball coach at Coker and one of Hayes’s college mentors. Schmotzer was never surprised by his success as a writer—he always knew Hayes had a lot more going for him than basketball. “Terrance had a vision of what he wanted to do,” he says. “Terrance is one of those guys ... when he says something, it’s profound.”

Original artwork by Terrance Hayes “Notes for an essay on pop culture influence and inspiration”