Four years ago, they heard it on TV or giant screens on the National Mall. But Wednesday night at the Hill Center in Southeast Washington, about 100 attendees listened to Elizabeth Alexander — in person — recite “Praise Song for the Day,” the poem she wrote for President Obama’s first inauguration.

Her reading was part of an hour-long presentation, the first in a new quarterly program co-sponsored by the Library of Congress and The Washington Post at the beautifully restored Old Naval Hospital. My conversation with her ranged across a number of subjects, from Alexander’s upbringing in Washington to the state of race relations in America. The poet, who directs the African American Studies department at Yale University, interspersed her remarks with poems from her various collections.

Here she is reading “Haircut,” a poem about Harlem, where she was born in 1962:

The next presentation in the Hill Center Poetry Series will be on Oct. 1 with Nick Flynn, the author of three collections of poetry and the memoir “Another Bulls*** Night in Suck City.”

These presentations are free, but you need tickets, and seating is strictly limited to 100. For reservations go to or call 202-549-4172. Hill Center is located at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE., just two blocks from Eastern Market Metro.

Twitter @RonCharles

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER Photo copyrighted by CJ Gunther.


Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.