PhD Graduate’s Homage to Place and Identity Through Poetry Nourishes Empathy and Inclusion
Poet and graduating doctoral student Lucien Darjeun Meadows credits growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia with rooting him firmly in the natural world, engendering a human-environmental bond that propelled and continues to inform his creative work.
“So many of my childhood memories are deeply based in place, intertwined with who I am and how I see myself,” he said.
A shy child who was largely homeschooled, Meadows considered the land, plants, animals and his immediate family his community and loved “putting a book and a sandwich in my little knapsack and going out to sit under a favorite tree in a grassy field to read for hours,” he recalled.
That early passion for reading soon expanded to include writing. “In fourth grade, one of my few years in public school, we had a guest teacher in for a poetry unit and wrote poems every day. I haven’t stopped writing since.”
Meadows will graduate in June with a PhD in English & Literary Arts with a concentration in literary studies from DU’s College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (CAHSS). He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology from Goucher College in Baltimore, Md., where he also pursued an interdisciplinary minor.
“Being in the first generation of my family to graduate from college, I wanted to do it all,” he said, laughing.
Following a challenging experience earning his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing at Southern Illinois University, Meadows worked in museums for three years before being accepted to the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference in Vermont.
There he landed in a workshop with poet Camille Dungy, a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and met Bailey Pittenger, then a PhD student in English & Literary Arts at DU, who highly recommended the university’s program.
They bolstered his confidence, and with Dungy’s letter of recommendation, Meadows applied. “I received a number of generous offers, but I appreciated the warmth of the DU faculty and how the program they built encourages students not only as creative writers but as literary scholars.”
Meadows started his PhD journey at DU in fall quarter 2018 with plans to pursue a dissertation in creative writing but more recently switched to complete a literary studies dissertation.
“I felt much more confident in creative writing, and I knew I had a lot of opportunity to still strengthen my skills as a critical writer,” he said. “The critical degree will allow me to pursue teaching in literature or creative writing.”
He’s grateful for the guidance he received from multiple professors and mentors. The African-American literature class he took with Associate Professor Tayana Hardin, for example, “reignited my passion for critical writing that followed me through other seminars and on to the critical dissertation.”
Hardin calls Meadows “an astute and gracious learner, writer and teacher.”
“He is an excellent teacher, committed to his students and their education and extends that same care to his cohort and the entire department," she said. “We are all better for it.”
The “incredible insight, zest and liveliness” of Meadows’ recently retired Professor Eleanor McNees' classes in Victorian Poetry, Virginia Woolf and the Victorians, Bibliography and Research Methods and several tutorials, together with her comments as his dissertation director, “always helped me see how to make the work better.”
And Assistant Professor Joanna E. Howard, a renowned writer and a graduate of DU’s PhD program, helped him refine his nearly completed second poetry manuscript that considers “what it means to be an ultra-marathon runner in such a heterosexual white space,” he said.
Currently serving as managing editor for Denver Quarterly, Meadows received the Denver Quarterly editorial fellowship last year while serving in the role of associate editor where he oversaw four print issues, reorganized resources and implemented new training.
“One of the highlights for me was working with the team to solicit and then produce a special portfolio entitled ‘Indigenous Voices’ [issue 56.4] featuring Indigenous writers and creatives,” he said.
Meadows’ debut poetry collection, “In the Hands of the River,” was published by Hub City Press in September 2022. It follows the speaker, a mixed-race boy growing up in Appalachia, “with a place and family who are working through challenges related to coal mining and other extractive industries, as well as issues with mental health and substance abuse.”
Both love letter to and reconciliation with the many facets of the place and people that shaped him, Meadows’ initial collection breaks open traditional poetic forms and raises questions about family, identity and sexuality.
“It all comes back to: What does it mean to be in this body in this specific place?” Meadows said.
He believes in the power of poetry to foster tolerance. “Especially today in the political sphere where there’s a tendency to make all-or-nothing judgments, poetry helps us linger in what we’ve never experienced, imagine what it would be like to be in the world in another way and remember our commonality.”
An ultra-marathon runner living in Fort Collins, Meadows gives back to his current home as a volunteer ranger assistant, conducting patrols of more than 85,000 acres in Larimer County, “encountering visitors, interpreting regulations, reporting on obstacles and serving as another set of eyes and helping hands for county rangers.”
He’s also a member of the diversity committee for the Fort Collins Running Club and was instrumental in working with community members to create a recently approved athlete gender policy that includes transgender, non-binary, two-spirit and intersex runners in races and events.
Meadows has developed an increasingly close bond with the natural wonders of the land in Fort Collins that continues to nurture his work.
“I know that in late January I’m going to start hearing the red-winged blackbirds, followed in a couple of weeks by the northern flickers and after that the blue jays; I know, now, where to find some of the earliest bloomings under the snow,” he said.
His second creative collection follows the speaker, an ultra-marathon runner in Northern Colorado who continues to harken back to his memories of Appalachia.
“In some ways, it’s a love letter, too, to this land I am a guest with and who I am beginning to know,” Meadows said.