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Lawson to release new book of poetry

February 20, 2023


NEWBERRY — A Newberry College professor is combining South Carolina history and poetry as he explores matters of mental health and race in a new book.


Dr. Len Lawson, assistant professor of English, will launch his new book, “Negro Asylum for the Lunatic Insane” on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Center for Teacher Education.


“It has a narrative storyline, centered around the speaker of many of the poems who is a Black World War II veteran,” said Lawson. “He’s dealing with his own mental health issues, maybe some PTSD from different things that happened to him in the war. But he’s up in age now and he’s a custodian at an all-Black mental asylum, set here in South Carolina.”


Lawson said he based the setting on the infamous South Carolina State Hospital on Bull Street, in operation from the 1820s until the 1990s. His research included visiting the abandoned buildings and speaking with people who have experienced mental health issues. In his book, he wanted to explore how far mental health care has come, especially for the African American community.


“I want people to enjoy the poetry but also to learn about the history of what’s going on here, and to have an understanding about mental health in general,” he said. “Sometimes mental health is seen as an excuse for why people do certain things, or it’s abused and seen as, like, a crutch, but other people have no control over their conditions. So there are a lot of different patients in this book who deal with different issues.”


The book is Lawson’s third, following “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 is a 2022 recipient of South Carolina Humanities’ Fresh Voices in the Humanities Award.

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