Aaron Dworkin finds inspiration in water.
As a young adult, he took an inflatable boat with an electric motor across Ford Lake in Ypsilanti.
On a small jet boat, he explored Canada, Whitmore Lake and Underground Railroad sites across Michigan.
As a teenager attending high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, he nearly drowned when a wave toppled his kayak.
He proposed to his best friend and wife-to-be on a small island in Florida, after making a creative appeal to the island’s owner — a popular artist — who made it possible. He and his wife, Afa, explored the waters of Michigan on a pontoon boat.
The couple have traversed the Atlantic Ocean to see Europe.
“I have always been obsessed with water and found it a great comfort,” said Dworkin, professor of arts leadership and entrepreneurship in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
So, when the pandemic hit and Dworkin found himself looking for a new outlet during quarantine, he knew exactly what he wanted to do: captain voyages across the Gulf Stream.
To make this dream a reality, Dworkin worked to get the proper boating certificates and took lessons. After months of preparation, the process culminated with the first journey with his wife on a boat named Esperanza.
“(Preparing for the first voyage) mirrored a lot of the entrepreneurial practice that I do and teach in terms of thinking about risk, calculating risk, mitigating it and then identifying resources, but then ultimately just doing it because there’s always reasons not to,” he said.
Hobbies and interests outside of work play a significant role in Dworkin’s life. He is a self-declared poker aficionado, explorer of the culinary arts and movie enthusiast who says he watches more than 100 films a year. He has also founded a homeless organization and launched a literary magazine.
Dworkin said he and his wife find the pursuit of a variety of interests essential in shaping a balanced life.
“We’re deep into our work, which we love, but we do want multiple capacities to our life,” he said.
While Dworkin loved captaining voyages around the Bahamas, navigating the trips around his work schedule and unpredictable weather proved challenging. In October 2021, he and his wife decided to sell their boat and purchase a lakefront home in Florida.
“We enjoy kayaking and exploring the varied terrain together,” he said. “We feel that seeing the world from the water is incredibly stimulating.”
Dworkin and his wife decided to name their new Florida home Esperanza as an ode to the boat that helped them navigate the pandemic.
“Without Esperanza 1.0, we wouldn’t have Esperanza 2.0 that has built more memories, experiences, serendipity, extraordinary experiences with artists and friends who we’ve gathered there,” he said. “So, it’s this interesting evolution that we wouldn’t have known and wouldn’t have prepared for.”’
Dworkin’s passion for the water and love for the arts recently intersected in a way that has greatly affected his personal and professional life.
One day while out on the water, he was contemplating poetry as he encountered an “aha moment.” What if, he wondered, poetry could be used as a medium to chronicle life? Upon Googling the term “poetjournalism,” Dworkin was surprised to see nothing using this name existed. He decided to coin the phrase and become the world’s first poetjournalist.
“What does it mean to be a poetjournalist?” Dworkin asked himself. “What that came down to was a structure of partnering with key institutions whose stories I wanted to tell. This came out of crafting and telling stories on the water. I asked myself: What if I could then tell the stories of institutions that share my priorities, my passions in life?”
Dworkin is now the poetjournalist in residence at The Wright Museum of African-American History, the Ovation TV network, Fisher Foundation, SHAR Music Company and George Washington University’s Rodham Institute.
“I love living a life filled with a sense and experiences that six months ago I never would have been able to predict,” he said. “But I try to create a sense of serendipity so that those possibilities can come to be.”
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When Dworkin attended U-M as an undergraduate, he founded the Sphinx Organization, an international organization that works to transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts. The Sphinx Organization celebrated its 25th anniversary this month with a gala at Carnegie Hall. Dworkin delivered a tribute poem in his signature poetjournalism style.
“It’s serendipity,” he said. “Esperanza and the inspiration I drew from an idea that came to me on water merged with my lifelong passion for poetry and ultimately put the things in place for me to deliver poetry on the stage of Carnegie Hall.”
Dworkin said he would encourage others to find something they’re passionate about and pursue it, regardless of any challenges in the way.
“There were so many reasons not to get the inflatable boat with a little electric motor on Ford Lake” he said. “There really didn’t make necessarily that much sense to drive a jet boat to explore the world back then, yet it led to all of these explorations and stories.”
What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?
For me there are probably two distinct examples. First was (in my former role as dean at SMTD) seeing our amazing students walk across the stage at graduation and witnessing their pride, joy and expectations for the future. Second is seeing our Sphinx artists perform on the stage of Carnegie Hall for the first time and their sense of accomplishment and community.
What can’t you live without?
The love and health of my family.
Name your favorite spot on campus.
Sitting by the pond by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
What inspires you?
Young artists and entrepreneurs and be a part of their exploratory adventure of life.
What are you currently reading?
“Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson.
Who had the greatest influence on your career path?
I would not attribute this to a singular person but rather the collection of people and life experiences that have informed my decisions and shaped the opportunities available to me.