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Rachel Jamison Webster

Professor of Instruction

M.F.A. Warren Wilson


Rachel Jamison Webster is Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department. She is the author of Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family, (Henry Holt, March 2023)—a book of creative nonfiction that explores ancestry, race, gender, and justice in American history. The book features present-day conversations with her cousins alongside researched stories about their ancestors. These ancestors include a female indentured servant from England who married a Senegalese man in 1690; a multiracial mother and herbalist who went to court to argue for the freedom of her children in 1730; and Benjamin Banneker, the first African American surveyor and almanac author who corresponded with Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s.

Booklist gave Benjamin Banneker and Us a starred review, writing, “Drawing on her acute sensitivity to language and bias, sharing long discussions with her cousins, and meshing their family history with the brutal realities of Banneker's time, Webster has created an engrossing, multifaceted, profoundly thoughtful, and beautifully rendered inquiry that forms a clarifying lens on America’s ongoing struggles against racism and endemic injustice.” Publisher’s Weekly called the book “a stunning meditation on race, identity, and achievement.” 

Rachel has also published four books of poetry and cross-genre writing, including, Mary is a River which was a finalist for the 2014 National Poetry Series; September; The Endless Unbegun; and The Sea Came Up & Drowned, which combines erasure poems and Rachel’s own collage artwork to meditate on our extractive economy and fractured relationship to the earth. Rachel’s poems and essays often appear in anthologies and journals, including PoetryTin House, The Yale Review and the Bettering American Poetry Anthology.

Rachel teaches creative nonfiction, poetry, literary ethics, cross-genre writing, meditative writing, and special topics classes like Writing Ancestry, Poetry and the Spiritual Search, and the capstone course for Creative Writing majors, Situation of Writing. She thinks about the intersections between ethics and aesthetics, and she sees creative work as a way to preserve human interiority, complexity, compassion, and respect across cultures. For 20 years, she has worked to diversify creative writing education, and to celebrate and cultivate the experiences, creations, and genius of her diverse students, many of whom have gone on to write successful books.

In 2016, Rachel received a Weinberg College Alumni Teaching Award for her Creative Writing instruction. In 2015, she received a Hewlett Fellowship for her design and implementation of diversities and social inequities curriculum in the department. Before she taught at the college level, she designed and taught writing workshops for city youth through the Urban League of Portland, Oregon, and Gallery 37 in Chicago. She helped develop the paid after-school arts program Words 37 with Chicago’s First Lady, Maggie Daley, and co-edited two anthologies of writing by young Chicagoans, titled, Alchemy (2001) and Paper Atrium (2005). Rachel also co-founded and directed the online anthology of international poetry, UniVerse, and created a radio series about poetry for Chicago Public Radio, called The Gift. Rachel has been a Fellow in the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; an Op-Ed Public Voices Fellow; Winner of an American Association of University Women Award; and a recipient of Emerging Artist Awards from the Poetry Foundation and the Poetry Center of Chicago. She is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.  


Poetry & Poetics, Creative Writing


The Sea Came Up and Drowned
The Sea Came Up and Drowned (Raw Books, 2020)
Mary is a River
Mary is a River (Kelsay Books, 2018)
The Endless Unbegun
The Endless Unbegun (Twelve Winters Press, 2015)
September: Poems
September: Poems  (Northwestern University Press, 2013)