About Roger

If there is a poet for this Zeitgeist, of Arab Spring, of governments toppling, a poet to listen to the people, a poet not just for this country but all countries, a poet I have been looking for my whole life, it is Roger Bonair-Agard.

Sean Thomas Dougherty
Roger Bonair-Agard is a native of Trinidad & Tobago, a Cave Canem fellow, and author of three full length collections of poetry, tarnish & masquerade (Cypher Books, 2006), GULLY (Cypher Books/Peepal Tree Press, 2010) and Bury My Clothes (Haymarket Books, 2013), which was long listed for the National Book Award.  A two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, Roger is also co-founder of NYC’s LouderARTS Project, and a Creative Writing MFA candidate at University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program. He has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and been featured at universities and literary festivals throughout the world.  Roger is extensively published in journals and anthologies.  He teaches creative writing at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and for the last two years was poet-in-residence at Young Chicago Authors.  He lives and works in Chicago and New York City. 

Roger Bonair-Agard moved to the United States from his native Trinidad and Tobago in 1987.  Intending to begin university and eventually pursue law, Roger found himself instead exploring the seediest sides of New York City life.  Harlem, East New York, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, the South Bronx, Washington Heights – wherever there was a neighborhood a young man would be better served by not spending time there after 10PM, Roger went, and lived and counts himself lucky to not have fallen more deeply into the traps that claim young black men with too much free time on their hands.  Roger began in due course at Hunter College of The City University of New York.  He pursued undergraduate studies in Political Science, was a four year varsity starter in soccer (including their conference winning season of 1995) and active in school politics and activism (acting student body president for one semester).  Roger made the Dean’s List often and was twice a nominee for scholar-athlete of the year.

While at Hunter, Roger was taken to a poetry reading where all the literary and dramatic pursuit of his youth in Trinidad was re-awakened in him.  An avid writer, vocalist and accomplished stage actor, as a teen, Roger had to this point gone 7 years without any involvement in New York’s art scene, but this poetry reading in the winter of 1994 re-fueled everything.  He began writing poems immediately.

His poems explore the intersection between his now 25plus years as an immigrant in America and the Trinidad from which he came.  In his own words, his poems are “a desperation” to bridge that gap “to recall, so as to confirm” who he is, and what his purpose is.  And while one might argue that to one extent or another, all poetry can be said to do this, it is definite in Roger’s case that his poems are all an existentialist study. He writes about Trinidad carnival, music, his mother, sport, his body, love, sexuality, race, maleness and blackness all with a fervent reaching for self-understanding.

Patricia Smith calls Roger Bonair-Agard “…his own revolution” and in praise of his first book tarnish and masquerade says he is “…a deft purveyor of unflinching politics and stark sensuality.”  The Chicago Sun-Times called that book “…exciting to be around”, while Amiri Baraka himself hailed it “…an impressive work”.  Major Jackson calls Roger’s sound “inimitable…” and goes on to celebrate his 2nd collection, GULLY, by calling it “extraordinary…”  He opines “…here is the splendor of testimonial verve, a large humanity, and humility by which Bonair Agard names to dignify in poem after poem the beauty of the West Indian spirit, his people, their survival…”  and Tom Lux has called Roger’s work “masterful…” and “musical…”, while Kwame Dawes himself has called Roger “…a remarkable craftsman.”

Roger Bonair-Agard has since that fateful 1994 night managed to coach a team to victory in the 1998 National Poetry Slam, while serving as Nuyorican Poets’ Café Fresh Poet of the Year.  The following year, as coach of the brand new LouderARTS Project team out of New York, he led the team back to the finals and 3rd place Nationally while capturing the Individual Poetry Slam Championship himself.  As coach or co-coach of the LouderARTS team, he has led the team to the top 4 on 5 different occasions.  Roger is also a Cave Canem fellow, which has afforded him the opportunity to study under the likes of Yusef Komunyakaa, Cornelius Eady, Marilyn Nelson, Toi Derricotte, Patricia Smith, Kwame Dawes and a host of other luminaries.  He has appeared three times on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and on the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour amongst other television and numerous radio appearances.

Roger’s work has brought him to performances; and to lead lectures, seminars and workshops at several institutions, in several cities across the world, including the Calabash Literary Festival (Jamaica, WI), Urban Voices Festival (Johhanesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Sth. Africa), University of the West Indies (St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad), Words Alive Literary Festival (St. Lucia, WI), University of Alaska at Anchorage (Anchorage, AK), Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH), McGill University (Montreal, Canada), Adirondacks Writing Center (Saranac Lake, NY), New York University (New York, NY), Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH), Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL), AWP (Denver, CO 2010) as well as festivals in Germany, Switzerland, Milan and Sicily.  Roger has worked for more than 10 years with the youth at Urban Word in New York City, and for 7 years with the youth at Volume in Ann Arbor and Poetry Youth Organizations in Seattle, San Francisco, and the Adirondack Valley, NY.  He has most recently been Adjunct Professor in the Creative Writing Department at Fordham University.

Currently, Roger is an MFA Creative Writing candidate at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program, where he has been mentored by Quincy Troupe and is currently being mentored by Tim Seibles.  Roger is the co-founder of the LouderARTS Project.  Roger is the author of tarnish and masquerade (Cypher Books, 2006), GULLY (Cypher Books, Peepal Tree Press, 2010), Bury My Clothes (Haymarket Books, 2013) – which was long listed for the National Book Award, and won the Society of Midland Authors award for poetry.  He is co-author of  Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press, 2000).  Roger has been an adjunct instructor at Fordham University NYC and artist-in-residence at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s First Wave Program.  He is writer-in-residence with Vision Into Art, and teaches poetry at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center.  He lives in Chicago and spends significant time in New York City.