Ajibola Tolase Named Winner of 2024 Cave Canem Prize

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Dedicated to the discovery of exceptional manuscripts by unpublished Black poets, the 2024 prize honors Ajibola Tolase’s 2,000 Blacks, which will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press

BROOKLYN, NY – Cave Canem is pleased to announce Nigerian essayist and poet Ajibola Tolase is the 2024 Prize winner. Tolase will receive $1,000, publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press in Fall 2024 and a feature reading of his book, 2,000 Blacks, in Fall 2024 at The New School. 

Los Angeles Poet Laureate and Cave Canem board member, Lynne Thompson states, “The Cave Canem Prize celebrates the richness of Black culture and the depth of our shared experience. Ajibola Tolase exemplifies the essence of creativity and resilience, using his poetry to shed light on the beauty and complexity of the Black experience.”

Tolase’s forthcoming poetry book explores and questions the alarming phenomenon of “African Brain Drain,” the politically and economically motivated migration of highly skilled professionals from their home countries in search of more favorable opportunities abroad. 

Through the lens of an African emigrant, Tolase scrutinizes the history of the continent’s instability through a series of poems. Tolase takes the reader on a journey from the dark roots of the Transatlantic Slave Trade to Africa’s incessant exploitation and excavation by the Global North. The book later explores his complex relationship with his father and the lasting effects of his father’s emotional and eventually physical absence. Spanning several poetry styles, from abecedarians to palindromic sonnets, Tolase weaves together his personal experiences with that of the collective African Diaspora, adding a fresh yet familiar voice to the legacy of Cave Canem. 

In Refuge Sonnets, Tolase writes, 

I used to like to put my feet in the water at the shore. It used to soothe me
to think whatever washed off my skin will make it to the West African coast.
Lord, I am on my knees tonight. Hoping my voice cuts through the noise
of planes landing in San Francisco. There’s more of us arriving in London,
New York, and Paris with familiar hunger. Lord, hear me. They say
the earth is red because it is scorched but I know it’s the blood
from all the wars. Like how the expats who visited Freetown said
it was difficult to watch the killings but didn’t say they kept the diamonds.

Ajibola Tolase holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Koola Lobitos was published in 2021 as part of the New Generation African Poets Series. His published works appear in LitHubNew England ReviewPrairie SchoonerPoetry and elsewhere. In addition to the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, Tolase has received an Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship at Colgate University and a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.

Cave Canem has nurtured a sense of community among Black poets since the organization’s founding in 1996 and its first Poetry Prize in 1999, with notable past awardees including Natasha Tretheway, Tracy K. Smith, Major Jackson, Rickey Laurentiis, Courtney Faye Taylor and Ariana Benson. Cave Canem envisions a world in which Black poets are empowered to write authentically in diverse forms, have their works shared with and recognized by audiences and have access to justly paid work. Cave Canem has actively championed this through the Cave Canem Fellowship and Prize, platforming Black literary arts expression aside from the perceived monolith of Blackness. 

The 2024 Cave Canem Prize is supported, in part, by private funds from Con Edison, and in part by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Cave Canem is a nonprofit organization, committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of Black poets. Founded in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape, Cave Canem fosters community across the African Diaspora to enrich the literary field by facilitating a nurturing space in which Black poets can learn, experiment, create, and present their work. To date, Cave Canem has grown from a gathering of 26 writers to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty, a high-achieving global fellowship of 500 poets, and a workshop community of over 1,000. In making a home for Black poets and poetry, Cave Canem has transformed American arts and letters.

The University of Pittsburgh Press is a publisher with distinguished lists in a wide range of scholarly and cultural fields for general readers, scholars and students.

The renowned Pitt Poetry Series represents many of the finest poets active today, as reflected in the many prestigious awards their work has garnered over the past four decades. In addition, the Press is home to the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and, in rotation with other university presses, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. The press also sponsors the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize, which recognizes the finest collective works of short fiction available in an international competition.

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