As a poet and an educator, Cameron Barnett believes that our stories are what bind us together.
He takes a story-telling approach as a teacher at the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, a K-8 school affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, where he teaches both sixth-grade social studies and seventh-grade language arts. Years ago, he was a student at the same school.
Barnett also lets stories guide his poetic voice, where he explores issues of identity, race, and human connection.
An emerging poet, Barnett published 2017’s critically acclaimed collection, “The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water,” which used water as an extended metaphor for his themes. He is currently working on his second volume of poems, which will be based on his family’s story. To research the book, he intends to retrace his family’s history, which spans from Pittsburgh to California to Saskatchewan, Canada.
“My ultimate goal in writing is that stories matter. It is important for people to tell their stories; all of us. The stories we carry are a way we can build empathy and learn to appreciate each other more deeply,” said Barnett.
Awards Honor Barnett as an Emerging Artist
This month Barnett was recognized with the 2019 Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Award in the Emerging Literary Artist Category. Presented by the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, the award has a $15,000 cash prize. Earlier this year, Barnett was awarded an $8,500 grant by the foundation’s Investing in Professional Artists program.
The funding from both awards will allow Barnett to conduct research for his new book, including travel expenses and writing workshops, as well as help to pay down student loan debt.
“In our School of Education, we are thrilled that Cameron Barnett has been recognized for his outstanding work as a poet and an artist. An exemplary teacher at our Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, Cameron lives out the mission-vision of our School of Education, which is to ignite learning, to teach, and to work for educational equity and justice,” said Valerie Kinloch, the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the Pitt School of Education.
Through its direct affiliation with the School of Education, Falk Laboratory School also serves as a student-teaching site for many students enrolled in the teacher certification programs at Pitt Education.
Barnett earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at the University of Pittsburgh. He studied under the well-known poets Terrance Hayes, Lynn Emmanuel, and Dawn Lundy Martin, all of whom stood out, he said, for their glowing passion for the writing craft.
“My writing represents the poetic expression of what we mean to each other and why,” said Barnett, who added that his new poetry collection will explore the concepts of Blackness and the self but from the personalized lens of his own family history.
A Deep Connection as a Teacher
Barnett is a popular teacher at the Falk School. He has even used his gift for poetry—in this case, rhyming verse—to create rap songs as a study guide for his students. His creation, “The Caesar Cypher,” about Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire is posted on YouTube.
“My writing life informs the way I teach. I try to get my students to understand the overarching narrative of history, the stories of people, and why things happened as they did, as opposed to making history all about memorizing dates,” said Barnett.
As for his language arts students, Barnett says they often ask him where he gets his inspiration as a poet. His reply is that “you never quite know how something will hit your ear or mind in a certain way.”
To Barnett, the Falk School will always feel like home. He, his sister, and his mother all studied there. He says the Falk School still feels the same to him. It’s a welcoming space where he actually wants to come to school every day.
“There’s something deeply special about Mr. Barnett, as an alum, having returned to his alma mater to inspire the next generation of thinkers, much in the same way he himself was educated here,” said Jeff Suzik, the director of the Falk Laboratory School. “Cam’s all about giving back.”
Indeed, Barnett feels inspired to pay it forward to his students as a teacher.
“These were the gifts given to me, and I try now as a teacher to pass it on,” he said.
To learn more about Cameron Barnett’s poetry, visit his website at https://www.cameronbarnett.net/.
To watch a video about his poetry that was shown at the Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Awards Ceremony: https://youtu.be/sZ9shlZhGCo.