Forché is an "award-winning poet, translator, essayist and human rights activist who coined the term 'poetry of witness' to describe her politically engaged poetry."
At the intersection of expression and humanity, you’ll find Carolyn Forché. It’s there where she has found a voice – especially, an artistic one – that can accumulate so much passion and momentum to make an impact on and on behalf of humanity.During her commencement address, she spoke about her journey through life, weaving together stories about almost not graduating college (enough credits, but no major), her time with Oscar Romero and Ignacio Ellacuria, and the challenges confronting our country and the world today.
For more than three decades, this decorated poet, translator, essayist and self-described “poet of witness” has been a steadfast human rights activist. From a young age, she was attracted to cases of social injustice. During a fellowship in El Salvador early in her career, she worked with human rights activist Archbishop Oscar Romero to locate missing persons. The effect of the experience was profound and clearly evident in her work The Country Between Us, which incorporated the atrocities against humanity she bore witness to in Central America.
To most of her contemporaries, Carolyn eradicated the line between art and politics. Humans debated her “right” to do so. Meanwhile, humanity greatly benefitted from the new path she traveled. Her mission to bring wide understanding of the struggle of individuals has taken her to
some of the world’s “hot spots” for social injustice, including South Africa and the West Bank.
Carolyn’s illuminating “voice” has gained worldwide acclaim. In 1998, she was presented the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award for Peace and Culture in Stockholm for her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture.
Much like her work in the human rights arena, Carolyn’s artistic work has also been decorated. Each of her four books of poetry earned distinction, and she became a trustee of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, Canada’s premier poetry award, in 2004.
Carolyn Forché is an artist and human rights activist, who, through her creativity, perspective and wisdom, has strived to bring attention and a voice to injustice.
Forché related one story about the last few days of Oscar Romero's life as well. Approximately, one week before his death, he told her that her time in El Salvador had come to an end and that she should return home to "her people" because things were getting too dangerous. When she said that he should go with her since being in El Salvador was even more dangerous for him, he said that he needed to stay with "his people."
Prof. Forché challenged our graduates with "You might become the most important generation that ever lived, given the challenges you have been asked to accept." The faculty and administration seemed to enjoy the speech. Hopefully, our students did as well.
If I find a video clip of her commencement address, I'll post it. In the meantime, here is a reading of her poem "The Colonel" with photos from El Salvador.
If you're looking for a commencement speaker next year, I would highly recommend Prof. Carolyn Forché.