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2020 Retreat Faculty

Major Jackson is the author of five books of poetry, including The Absurd Man (W. W. Norton & Company, 2020), Roll Deep (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015), Holding Company (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), Hoops (W. W. Norton & Company, 2006) and Leaving Saturn (Uni. of Georgia, 2002), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems. His edited volumes include: Best American Poetry 2019 (Simon & Schuster, 2019), Renga for Obama (Harvard Review ONLINE, 2017) and Library of America’s Countee Cullen: Collected Poems (2013). A recipient of fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Major Jackson has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He has published poems and essays in American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and included in multiple volumes of Best American Poetry. Major Jackson lives in South Burlington, Vermont, where he is the Richard A. Dennis Professor of English and University Distinguished Professor at the University of Vermont. He serves as the Poetry Editor of The Harvard Review.

Robin Coste Lewis is the poet laureate of Los Angeles. In 2015, her debut poetry collection, Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf, 2015) won the National Book Award in poetry––the first time a poetry debut by an African-American had ever won the prize in the National Book Foundation’s history, and the first time any debut had won the award since 1974. Voyage of the Sable Venus was also a finalist for LA Times Book Prize, the Hurston-Wright Award and the California Book Award. Lewis received her BA from Hampshire College; an MTS degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard University; an MFA in poetry at New York University; and a PhD from the University of Southern Creative Writing and Literature Program, where she was a Provost’s Fellow in poetry and visual studies. In 2018, MoMA commissioned both Lewis and Kevin Young to write a series of poems to accompany Robert Rauschenberg’s drawings in Thirty-Four Illustrations of Dante’s Inferno (MoMA, 2018). Lewis was a finalist for the International War Poetry Prize and the National Rita Dove Prize. She also received a Woman-of-the-Year award from Los Angeles County, and in 2018, Lewis was named an “Art-of-Change” fellow by the Ford Foundation. Lewis’s current research focuses on the intersecting production histories of early African American poetry and photography, for which she also received the Anne Friedberg Memorial Grant from USC’s Visual Studies Research Institute. Lewis is currently at work on two new collections, To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness and Prosthetic, both of which are forthcoming from Knopf.

Evie Shockley is a two-time winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry—for the new black (Wesleyan, 2011) and for semiautomatic (Wesleyan, 2017), which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the LA Times Book Prize.  She has published three other collections of poetry, including a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2006), as well as a critical study, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (2011).  You can find Shockley’s poetry and essays featured in several anthologies, such as Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (Uni. of Georgia, 2009),  Poem-A-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion (Abrams, 2015), The Fate of Difficulty in the Poetry of Our Time (Northwestern Uni. Press, 2017), and Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden (Triquarterly, 2017).  Shockley’s work has been supported and recognized with the 2015 Stephen Henderson Award, the 2012 Holmes National Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the American Council of Learned Societies.  Shockley is Professor of English at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

A native of Danville, Kentucky, Frank X Walker is the first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate. Walker has published ten collections of poetry, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers (Uni. of Georgia, 2013), which was awarded the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. He is also the author of Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York (Uni. of Kentucky, 2004), winner of the 2004 Lillian Smith Book Award and Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride (Old Cove Press, 2010), which he adapted for stage, earning him the Paul Green Foundation Playwrights Fellowship Award. His poetry was also dramatized for the 2016 Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV and staged by Message Theater for the 2015 Breeders Cup Festival. A lover of comics, Walker curated “We Wear the Mask: Black Superheroes through the Ages,” an exhibit of his personal collection of action figures, comics, and related memorabilia at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center in 2015; he reprised the exhibit in 2018 at Purdue University and Western Carolina University. Walker recently returned to the world of visual art with a collection of new and early multimedia works, “Black Star Seed: When Mi Cyaan Find Di Words” which was on exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. Voted one of the most creative professors in the south, Walker coined the term “Affrilachia” and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets, subsequently publishing the much-celebrated eponymous collection. His honors also include a 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, the 2008 and 2009 Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry in Appalachian Heritage, the 2013 West Virginia Humanities Council’s Appalachian Heritage Award, as well as fellowships and residences with Cave Canem, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Kentucky Arts Council. The recipient of honorary doctorates from University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, Spalding University and Centre College, Walker is the founding editor of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture and serves as Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Guest Poet: francine j. harris

francine j. harris is the author of play dead (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the Lambda Literary and Audre Lorde Awards and finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her third collection, Here is the Sweet Hand, is forthcoming on Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2020. Originally from Detroit, she has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and MacDowell Colony. She was the 2018/2019 Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and is Associate Professor of English at University of Houston.


Co-Founders: Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Eady and Derricotte © Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Toi Derricotte has published five collections of poetry, most recently I: New and Selected Poems (Uni. of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) and The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). An earlier collection of poems, Tender (Uni. of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), won the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks, published by W.W. Norton, won the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her essay “Beds” is included in The Best American Essays 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat. Recognized as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania in 2009, her honors include the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement; the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, for a poet whose distinguished and growing body of work represents a notable presence in American literature; the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America; two Pushcart Prizes; the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists; the Alumni/Alumnae Award from New York University; the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, Inc.; the Elizabeth Kray Award, for service to the field of poetry from Poets House; and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Maryland State Arts Council. She serves on the Academy of American Poets’ Board of Chancellors and for many years was Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Cave Canem co-founder Cornelius Eady was born in 1954 in Rochester, New York. He is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently The War Against the Obvious (Jacar Press, 2018) and Singing While Black (Kattywompus Press, 2015). Eady’s critically acclaimed Hardheaded Weather (Penguin, 2008) was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Ommation Press, 1986), won the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He has collaborated with jazz composer Diedre Murray in the production of several works of musical theater, including You Don’t Miss Your WaterRunning Man, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999; Fangs, and Brutal Imagination, which received the Newsday’s Oppenheimer Award in 2002. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry; a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Traveling Scholarship; a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy; The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (1994); and the Elizabeth Kray Award, for service to the field of poetry from Poets House. He is a professor in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literature at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton.

Former Faculty

Chris Abani
Elizabeth Alexander
Cyrus Cassells
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Lucille Clifton, Elder (6/27/1936 – 2/13/2010)
Kwame Dawes
Nikky Finney
C. S. Giscombe
Michael S. Harper, Elder (3/18/1938 – 5/7/2016)
Terrance Hayes
Erica Hunt
Angela Jackson
Major Jackson
Ruth Ellen Kocher
Yusef Komunyakaa
Dawn Lundy Martin
Colleen J. McElroy
Harryette Mullen
Marilyn Nelson, Elder
Willie Perdomo
Carl Phillips
Claudia Rankine
Ed Roberson
Sonia Sanchez, Elder
Tim Seibles
Evie Shockley
Patricia Smith
Amber Flora Thomas
Natasha Trethewey
Afaa M. Weaver, Elder
Al Young, Elder
Kevin Young