Cave Canem Poets Win Awards

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Brooklyn, NY  (12 May 2016)—Cave Canem Foundation, North America’s premier home for black poetry, congratulates seven recipients of prestigious national awards: fellows Rio Cortez, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Ross Gay, Duriel Harris, Airea Dee Matthews and Danez Smith, and faculty member Ed Roberson.

Rio Cortez, a Pushcart-nominated poet and recipient of a 2012 Amy Award from Poets & Writers, was selected by Ross Gay in January 2016 as winner of the inaugural Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize  for her manuscript I Have Learned to Define a Field as a Space between Mountains. The prize confers $500, publication by Jai-Alai Books, 10 copies of the chapbook, a one-week residency at the Writer’s Room at the Betsy Hotel in Miami, and a feature reading at the O, Miami Poetry Festival.

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, author of TwERK and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, has been awarded a 2016 Whiting Award, which confers $50,000 in recognition of “early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come.” Of TwERK, the selection committee writes, “In this heteroglot echo chamber a wide range of idioms—and their attendant forms of consciousness, of politics—collide and recombine.”

National Book Award finalist Ross Gay has won the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. The award is given annually to honor a poet at mid-career, providing $100,000 and resources that allow the artist to continue working toward the pinnacle of their craft. Of Gay’s work, Chief Judge Chase Twichell says, “Although modest and unpretentious, Ross has an authority that allows him to speak directly into the ear of the reader with a disarming intimacy, one that makes us feel that each poem turns directly toward us as we read.”

Duriel Estelle Harris, co-founder of the Black Took Collection and author of three previous collections of poetry, has won the Nightboat Poetry Prize for No Dictionary of a Living Tongue. Competition judge Kazim Ali says: “Harris’ book is incredibly ambitious in its explorations of art, citizenship, life as a body amid all the social, political and electronic networks that define us, hold us together, even bind us.” Harris receives $1,000, and her collection will be published Spring 2017.

Airea Dee Matthews, a 2015 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, has received the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize for simulacra (Yale University Press, April 2017). Judge Carl Phillips writes, “Rebellion is the first word that comes to mind, when reading simulacra, Airea Matthews’s rollicking, destabilizing, at once intellectually sly and piercing and finally poignant debut.” Matthews will receive a fellowship to complete a residency at the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT.

Shelley Memorial Award winner Ed Roberson has won both the PEN/Voelcker Award, which confers $5,000 upon a poet “whose distinguished and growing body of work to date represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature”; and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which confers $100,000 and “honors a living US poet for outstanding lifetime achievement.” Wrote Poetry editor Don Share:Roberson’s ten books of poetry take readers, as they have taken the poet himself, to every corner of the vivid labyrinth of life.”

Ruth Lilly Fellowship recipient Danez Smith has won the 2016 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, “presented annually for a first book by a poet of genuine promise,” for his manuscript [insert] boy (Yes Yes Books, 2015). Of the work, Chase Twichell writes, “[insert] boy is an unforgettable debut. I can think of no other recent first book of American poetry that packs a punch of this force.”

Founded in 1996 by poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, Cave Canem Foundation is a home for the many voices of African American poetry and is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. Called “the major watering hole and air pocket for black poetry” by 2011 National Book Award winner and faculty member Nikky Finney, the organization’s programs include an annual week-long retreat, three book prizes delivered in collaboration with five prestigious presses, community-based writing workshops, Legacy Conversations with distinguished black poets and scholars, cross-cultural Poets on Craft talks with writers in mid-career, a popular lecture series,  a New Works reading series, and a Poets Tour representing over 70 fellows. Such pre-eminent poets as Chris Abani, Elizabeth Alexander, Terrance Hayes, Yusef Komunyakaa, Harryette Mullen, Claudia Rankine and Natasha Trethewey number among the organization’s faculty and judges. For more information, visit

Cave Canem is part of a national coalition of poetry organizations working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. Learn more about this coalition of poetry organizations.

Media Contact:
Kyla Marshell, Development/Marketing Associate, Cave Canem Foundation: 718.858.0000; [email protected]