Prize Winning Books

Cave Canem Poetry Prize Winners
Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize Winners




Rickey Laurentiis
Boy with Thorn
Selected by Terrance Hayes
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015

“Whether in praise songs, appraisals or meditations, the poems of Boy with Thorn embody an ardent grace. Their accomplished structures house a fearless sensitivity. Rickey Laurentiis fills history with his ‘crucial blood,’ his ‘stubbornness,’ his ‘American tongue’; and history, in return, fills him with crucial muses (from Auden to Hayden), stubborn ghosts (such as Emmett Till), and manifold expressions of culture (southern, sexual, spiritual). The result is an extraordinary, and ultimately, irreducible debut. To paraphrase something Einstein once said, the true magic of this book can only be found inside this book.”

—Terrance Hayes

2014 Honorable Mention: Raina Fields for Last Rites for Uptown.


F. Douglas Brown
Zero to Three
Selected by Tracy K. Smith
University of Georgia Press, $17.95

"These poems lead us from the birth cry in a hospital delivery room, to dusk and revelry in Spain, to modern-day Florida and history-laden Mississippi where Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till were slain. Even when what Brown has set out to do is grieve loss, his lines move with a buoyant, marrow-deep music, percussive and rich. They move like 'a train, bound to a destination' and they arrive with 'the crackle lightning makes when it hits.' "

—Tracy K. Smith


Dexter Booth
Scratching the Ghost
Selected by Major Jackson
Graywolf Press, $15

“These are poems loyal to their own intrepid logic and reckless plausibility. Yet, lest the reader get too giddy in a fun house of mirrors, here, too, are the melodic laments and remarkable lyric passages of a man who acknowledges the infinite current of melancholy that underlines his journey.”

—Major Jackson


Nicole Terez Dutton
If One of Us Should Fall
Selected by Patricia Smith
University of Pittsburgh Press, $15.95

“Nicole Terez Dutton's fierce and formidable debut throbs with restless beauty and a lyrical undercurrent that is both empowered and unpredictable. Every poem is unsettling in that delicious way that changes and challenges the reader. There is nothing here that does not hurtle forward.”

—Patricia Smith


Iain Haley Pollock
Spit Back a Boy
Selected by Elizabeth Alexander
The University of Georgia Press, $16.95

“Beyond the bracing intelligence in these poems, beyond the surges of joy and trouble, beyond the poet's awe in this split second, he plunges with imagination into the timeless work of loving witness, resonant with high style and the blues. Wherever Iain Pollock turns, the search is on, in history, art, family, in things on display and hidden in himself.”

—Cornelius Eady


Gary Jackson
Missing You, Metropolis
Selected by Yusef Komunyakaa
Graywolf Press, $15

"Gary Jackson's Missing You, Metropolis embodies and underscores a voice uniquely shaped and tuned for the 21st century. Playful, jaunty and highly serious... the collection is gauged by a sophisticated heart. Pathos breathes within and slightly underneath the visual comedy, and this quality is the true genius of Missing You, Metropolis."

—Yusef Komunyakaa


Ronaldo V. Wilson
Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man
Selected by Claudia Rankine
University of Pittsburgh Press, $14

"Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man is a riveting interrogation of two men in a relationship...Identity, Wilson seems to say, is only a collection of stories—the ones told about us in battle with the ones we tell ourselves. What we have here is palpable consciousness: a stunning achievement."

—Claudia Rankine


Dawn Lundy Martin
A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering
Selected by Carl Phillips
The University of Georgia Press, $16.95

"A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering is a long song of bodily bereavement—staccato, bracket studded, gruff, brusque. It maps a stark, disconsolate landscape in which bodied resounds with bloodied, 'a song no longer a song.' Jagged vantage, rhythmic aplomb, and an always agile colloquy of image and assertion make for a most auspicious debut."

—Nathaniel Mackey


Constance Quarterman Bridges
Lions Don't Eat Us
Selected by Sonia Sanchez
Graywolf Press, $14

"Constance Quarterman Bridges gives readers the gift of the griot's embodied eloquence, memory working to delicately braid the fibers of a family's connected lives. The core of the African-American tradition has been waiting for this book."

—Afaa Michael Weaver


Amber Flora Thomas
Eye of Water
Selected by Harryette Mullen
University of Pittsburgh Press, $14

"Amber Flora Thomas has written one of her generation's best first books. . .Intensely crafted, Thomas's poems thrive on multiple levels of truths in myriad angles. They are literally dazzling. Thomas makes a breathtaking debut with this collection."

—Molly Peacock


Kyle Dargan
The Listening
Selected by Quincy Troupe
The University of Georgia Press, $14

"What is this phat new thing in your hands? It's both antithetical and wide, wide open. It's right as mismatched sneakers: one foot stepping backward, the other forward. Kyle Dargan has built a shelter with the bricks of the best worlds. He's made a halfway house you won't be leaving soon. Settle in!"

—Terrance Hayes


Tracy K. Smith
The Body's Question
Selected by Kevin Young
Graywolf Press, $14

"Here's a voice that can weave beauty and terror into one breath, and the unguarded revelations are never verbal striptease."

—Yusef Komunyakaa


Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Black Swan
Selected by Marilyn Nelson
The University of Pittsburgh Press, $12.95

"A series of dramatic portraits: the landscape of a Florida landscape too hot to touch, the mother's Pentecostal Old Testament law of judgment, a father's recklessness in the mindless spreading of seed, male malingering with no meaningful work, and little instruction by example....Ecstatic lyric, ritual grace under extreme pressure, realized."

—Michael S. Harper


Major Jackson
Leaving Saturn
Selected by Al Young
The University of Georgia Press, $16.95

"Major Jackson makes poems that rumble and rock. These poems find themselves at home in the mind of Sun Ra or on a Cape Cod beach, in a City Center Disco or the projects of North Philadelphia. Read 'Euphoria,' 'How To Listen,' 'Some Kind of Crazy' and get a jolt of this stuff. Become one of the 'community of believers.'"

—Dorianne Laux


Natasha Trethewey
Domestic Work
Selected by Rita Dove
Graywolf Press, $12.95

"From sonnets and traditional ballads to free verses shot through with the syncopated attitude of blues, the poems in Domestic Work sing with a muscular luminosity. Here is a young poet in full possession of her craft, ready to testify. To which I say: Can we get an 'Amen?' And: Let these voices be heard."

—Rita Dove



Jonathan Moody
Olympic Butter Gold
Selected by Parneshia Jones and Frank X Walker
Northwestern University Press, 2015

“Jonathan Moody lets us arrive, just in time, for Olympic Butter Gold. Words become the turntables of life—inside and outside the lines we have drawn for ourselves. This is no safe venture; nor is it meant to just pass the ‘good book of poetry’ grade. That’s too easy—and frankly, cliché. Give Jonathan Moody a pen and watch a canvas of imagery be created. Give him a story, a voice, or a reason to tell the truth and stand back for an explosion of diction so close to the smooth bone that rereading the page is highly recommended and not uncommon.”

—Parneshia Jones


Reginald Harris
Selected by Janice Harrington and Parneshia Jones
Northwestern University Press, $16.95

“This is poetry that wants to speak to readers and not above them. He walks the streets you walk, sees the people you see, feels...the same heart-breaking despair over the plight of African American males (drugs, violence, AIDS, urban ruin) that you feel. Harris is driving and readers are lucky to be in the passenger seat.”

—Janice Harrington


Vievee Francis
Horse in the Dark
Selected by Parneshia Jones and Adrian Matejka
Northwestern University Press, $16.95

"Horse in the Dark is a work of transformation, achieved by looking back and reimagining the past and the present, tied together through a series of poems about horses—the girl-horse of childhood, centaurs, seahorses, and Pegasus—horses that represent personal escape, imaginative possibility, risk-taking, a young girl's coming of age, and how we as humans are more than the boundaries of body or place or time. Vievee Francis transforms memory into a resonant and unflinching poetry."

—Adrian Matejka


Indigo Moor
Through the Stonecutter's Window
Selected by Reginald Gibbons, Parneshia Jones and John Keene
Northwestern University Press, $16.95

"These poems open a sustained and impressive dialogue with the visual arts, history, the natural world, and the poet's dreams and nightmares, while dancing poly-rhythmically across and down each page."

—John Keene

"Always in motion, [Moor’s] lines are choreographed to make sense of all that is most elusive in meaning: music, violence, art, love, history, anger, race, belief, desire."

—Reginald Gibbons