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A Kind of Heaven: The First Years of Cave Canem

June 13 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

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In its first five years, the Cave Canem Retreat was hosted at Mount St. Alphonsus Seminary in Esopus, New York. Cave Canem has since kept many of the traditions from those first years alive while blossoming into a New York City-based nonprofit with a broad range of programs that further its mission of supporting Black poets. In this roundtable, co-founders Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, faculty members Elizabeth Alexander and Afaa Michael Weaver, former fellow Hayes Davis, and former board member Father Francis Gargani reflect on starting a life-changing tradition of fellowship.

REGISTER HERE. This event is supported by American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and automated closed captioning.

Elizabeth Alexander–decorated poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and cultural advocate–is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in higher education. Dr. Alexander has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for 15 years and chaired the African American Studies Department. She is Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, serves on the Pulitzer Prize Board, and co-designed the Art for Justice Fund. Notably, Alexander composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, and is author or co-author of fourteen books. Her book of poems, American Sublime, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2006, and her memoir, The Light of the World, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 2015.


Toi Derricotte is the recipient of the 2020 Frost Medal from Poetry Society of America. Her sixth collection of poetry, “I”: New and Selected Poems, was published in 2019 and was shortlisted for the 2019 National Book Award.  Other books of poetry include The Undertaker’s Daughter, Tender, Captivity, Natural Birth, and The Empress of the Death House. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her numerous literary awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  She was awarded the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, a Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists, the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. With Cornelius Eady, Derricotte co-founded the Cave Canem Foundation in 1996. They are co-recipients of the Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award, the City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, and the MLA Phyllis Franklin Award. She is Professor Emerita from University of Pittsburgh and a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


Poet/Playwright/Songwriter Cornelius Eady was born in Rochester, New York in 1954. In 1996, he co-founded Cave Canem with poet Toi Derricotte. He is the author of several poetry collections, including Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize; The Gathering of My Name, nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; Brutal Imagination; and Hardheaded Weather. He wrote the libretto to Diedra Murray’s opera Running Man, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Theatre, and his verse play Brutal Imagination won the 2001 Oppenheimer Prize for the best first play from an American Playwright. His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He was the Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing and Professor in English and Theater at The University of Missouri-Columbia. Eady is currently Professor of English at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton.


Terrance Hayes is the author of six poetry collections: American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, a finalist for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and TS Eliot Prize; How to Be DrawnLighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award for poetry; Muscular Music, recipient of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award; Hip Logic, winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series, and Wind in a Box. His prose collection, To Float in The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. Hayes has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and Whiting Foundation, and is a professor of English at New York University.


Afaa M. Weaver (尉雅風) was born in 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland, where he spent fifteen years (between 1970 and 1985) working in factories and developing himself as a poet, editor, and freelance journalist. Near the end of that period, he received a 1985 NEA fellowship in poetry. He completed his B.A. from Regents College in 1986, and in 1987 his M.A in Creative Writing at Brown University. He has published fifteen books of poetry, most recent of which is Spirit Boxing. From 1997 to 2001, he was the editor of Obsidian III. His awards include the 1993 PDI playwriting award, multiple Pushcarts, a 2002 Fulbright at National Taiwan University, the Beijing Writers’ Gold Friendship medal in 2005, the 2014 Kingsley Tufts, the 2015 Phyllis Wheatley award, and a 2017 Guggenheim. In 2019, Afaa was given two lifetime achievement awards, from the St. Botolph Club Foundation in Boston and in Taiwan the 96th National Medal in Art & Literature. His poetry has been translated into Arabic and Chinese. Afaa is a lifelong student of Chinese language and culture. In 2017, he retired from Simmons University, after twenty years holding the Alumnae Endowed Chair. He now teaches at Sarah Lawrence.




June 13
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
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