The Davidsonian

Stacey Waite speaks into a microphone on a promotional poster for the talk, "Dear Gender"

With Words of Wisdom, Stacey Waite Visits Davidson

Abby True ’25 (She/Her), Staff Writer

Poet, educator, and scholar Stacey Waite visited Davidson last week. Clubs Queers & Allies and You Are Not a Stranger Here hosted Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an author of four published books of poetry.

While on campus, Waite led three open events: a writing workshop, a lunch with students at Vail Commons, and a talk titled “Dear Gender,” the centerpiece of Waite’s visit. 

“Dear Gender” was half poetry reading, and half questionnaire. The poems primarily centered around the titular topic of gender and touched on the author’s relationship to identity as a whole. “I’m not mad at pronouns, we’re just not really in a relationship,” quipped Waite as they prefaced a poem expressing frustration with the contemporary practice of pronoun-sharing. Waite read with emotion and humor, pausing between works to crack jokes, share personal anecdotes and interact with the audience; at one point, they even laughed about their child’s recent obsession with Minecraft.

In relating the details of this visit, Waite echoed many of the sentiments presented in the reading: “I have often felt like a tourist traveling a world in which gender seems to make sense to a lot of other people, and so much about it still doesn’t make sense to me. So I work on the idea. I write about the strange grief, the undeniable fear, and the relentless humor gender provides, and in my evening performance, I hope to invite others with me on that journey.”

On the subject of the talk, Waite described rarely “feel[ing] like I ‘chose’ anything about gender, including the fact that I write about it. Gender chose me. I’ve responded by writing it all down, by talking about it, by asking questions that aren’t always obvious to ask.”

Waite feels that “poets do the impossible work of reminding us that language and experience are inextricable — that our world is made of the words we use and their effects. It’s a poet’s job to take something (in my case, gender) that people think they’ve already known or seen, and make it suddenly strange and newly complex.”

This visit, and others like it, are a part of this mission, though they haven’t been possible in recent years thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I missed this part of my work a lot — getting to travel to colleges and high schools and talk with young people about art, gender, teaching, embodiment, poetry and identity,” Waite explained.

While discussing what they hoped to offer to students and to gain in return, Waite noted, “I know I will learn a lot from the students I meet at Davidson […] I always hope to help LGBTQ students feel like their lives are more possible. And at a moment where LGTBQ people are under re-invigorated attack all throughout the country, I hope to be a queer thorn in the side of those who would like us all to think of gender and sexuality as conventional, stable, and fixed expressions.”

To aspiring writers, Waite advised, “read! Hang out with other writers, and get used to being told ‘no’.”

The “Dear Gender,” audience was engaged and responsive. Lilly Garritson ‘26 described her experience: “Waite had a specific collection of poems modeled after what men had said in confidence to them, usually regarding the objectification of women. In one specific poem, I felt myself tearing up, as I could relate to feeling so stifled and pressured to conform.”

Eva Schooler ‘24, similarly related to the content of the talk. A story about Waite and a friend with ideological differences spoke to her. “We don’t choose how we are socialized, but what matters is our responses to our evolving environments,” said Schooler.

Altogether, student responses suggested that this visit fulfilled Waite’s expectations: “I’m hoping all the events will be connective and help me get to know students and talk with them about all things gender, sexuality, poetry, art, teaching, and identity. I’m excited to be here.” 

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