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Commonweal Magazine - Interview with Dan Burt by James Hannan


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August 2016

When I opened You Think It Strange, poet Dan Burt’s memoir of his journey from the gritty environs of South Philadelphia to the hallowed halls of Cambridge University, I casually assumed that it would be a feel-good, up-from-the-streets account of talent and determination overcoming childhood adversity.

Burt’s early life was indeed a triumph of wit and will. He managed to escape a world filled with violence and a culture that valued street smarts over book smarts, all the while knowing that just about everyone around him thought little of his prospects. That he made it out at all is extraordinary. That he became a successful lawyer and writer is virtually unimaginable.

After reading the book, I just couldn’t let his story go. How did a bred-in-the-bone South Philly guy navigate Cambridge and English society? What brought Burt back to the United States to attend law school, and how did his legal and writing career evolve? Why did he finally decide to renounce his U.S. citizenship, the final act of which is courageously described in his poem “Traitor”? I had the opportunity to connect with Dan recently, and he graciously agreed to share his post-Philadelphia story with Commonweal.

Read full interview with Dan Burt.