Cave Canem 20/20: A Celebration Both Timely and Profound

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For Cave Canem Foundation and the two hundred attendees visiting Weeksville Heritage Center over this past Memorial Day weekend, Cave Canem 20/20: A Panoramic View of Black Poetry marked a deeply reflective and joyous occasion. An overall success, the two-and-a-half day poetry forum and fundraiser commemorating Cave Canem’s past, present and future raised nearly $13,000 in sponsorships and ticket sales.

The evening of Friday, May 26, opened with remarks from and a keynote by Honorary Directors Elizabeth Alexander and Terrance Hayes, respectively. Alexander shared new work and recited her inaugural poem “Praise Song for the Day,” while Hayes offered a selection of poems entitled “American Sonnet for my Past and Future Assassin.” The night concluded with a reception deejayed by Communications and Marketing intern, Della Green (aka DJ RIVERA). Read Kyle Lucia Wu’s write-up of Friday’s events on LitHub.

Saturday, May 27, began with a panel on publishing presented by Well Read Black Girl founder Glory Edim, which featured editors Tracy Sherrod, Rakia Clark and Rio Cortez. The conversation engaged readers, writers and publishers alike, as Edim aptly notes: “There is a hunger for books. We have to pull from what people are doing individually and translate it to publishing.” For panel highlights, read this Well Read Black Girl tweet thread.

Weeksville Heritage Center is Brooklyn’s largest African-American cultural institution and the site of one of America’s first free black communities.  On Saturday and Sunday afternoon, guests—many of whom were first-time visitors—were able to explore the historic grounds with Weeksville’s Tour Educators. One attendee noted that tours allowed them to see into the lesser-known histories of black Americans and “to visualize the community that had been so vibrant and thriving.”

Guests also had the option to attend a grant writing workshop led by poet and arts administrator DéLana R.A. Dameron, which focused on relaying tools to those who seek funding for their personal artistry. “Motionpoems,” a collection of short films based on work by Cave Canem poets, were running throughout the day on both Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday afternoon, Walter Mosley addressed the crowd with a lecture entitled “On Being Black, Being a Writer, and Cave Canem,” which spoke to the organization’s twenty-year evolution and future growth. The entirety of his remarks can be found on LitHub.

Saturday closed with readings by Cave Canem Poetry Prize winners, Major Jackson, Donika Kelly, Rickey Laurentiis and Tracy K. Smith. Several of the poets, including the recently appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, shared new and unpublished works.

On the morning of Sunday, May 28, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon and John Murillo read their poetry and engaged in a conversation on craft, moderated by #LiterarySwag pioneer Yahdon Israel. Van Clief-Stefanon presented her work accompanied by double bassist Desmond Bratton, and Murillo shared his epic poetic saga about “Stagolee.”

That afternoon, Black Poets Speak Out co-founders, Mahogany L. Browne and Amanda Johnston, and poet Kyle Dargan, participated in an afternoon reading and dialogue moderated by artist Kenyon Adams. A dynamic conversation with the audience followed, as presenters and attendees discussed methods of action in today’s political climate.

The weekend came to a close with Cave Canem co-founder Cornelius Eady offering closing remarks and reciting his poem “Gratitude,” which reads, in part: “I’m 36 years old, / a black, American poet. / Nearly all the things / that weren’t supposed to occur / Have happened, (anyway).”


Kenyon Adams, Elizabeth Alexander, Desmond Bratton, Mahogany L. Browne, Rakia Clark, Rio Cortez, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, DéLana R.A. Dameron, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Glory Edim, Tia Powell Harris, Terrance Hayes, Yahdon Israel, Major Jackson, Amanda Johnson, Donika Kelly, Rickey Laurentiis, Walter Mosley, John Murillo, DJ RIVERA, Tracy Sherrod and Tracy K. Smith


New York City Department of Cultural Affairs  in partnership with The City council; Alice James Books; Association of Writers & Writing Programs; Bennington Writing Seminars; Center for African American Poetry & Poetics; Copper Canyon Press; Four Way Books; Graywolf Press; Grove Atlantic; HarperCollins; Jack Jones Literary Arts; Marie-Elizabeth Mali; NYU Creative Writing Program; Poetry Northwest; and Poets & Writers

Event Photographers

D’anna Brown and nívea castro

Volunteers & Interns

LeConte Dill; Della Rivera Green; Tara Jayakar; Renee Kydd; Charles Lynch; Nkosi Nkululeko; Gabriel Ramirez; Jayson P. Smith; and Yolanda Watson

Cave Canem Staff

Elizabeth Bryant; Sharlene Piverger; and Nicole Sealey