Mission & History

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Cave Canem was founded by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady in 1996 to remedy the underrepresentation and isolation of African-American poets in the literary landscape. That year, Cave Canem welcomed the inaugural cohort of Fellows to our Retreat—a residency of intensive poetry workshops and readings, which offers an unparalleled opportunity to join a community of peers and study with a faculty of renowned poets—at Mount St. Alphonsus Seminary, in Esopus, New York. Since 2003, University of Pittsburgh|Greensburg has hosted the flagship program. Cave Canem Fellowships have supported more than 500 poets, many of whom have gone on to distinguished literary careers, including winners of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, and Poets Laureate.

Cave Canem offers a suite of core programs that consists of  Fellowships, Regional Workshops, Prizes, and a Legacy Series, as well as readings and other presentations that highlight the poetry of our Fellows and that of the African diaspora. Programs are open to the general public, offering Black poets exposure to new audiences and new audiences exposure to Black poetry. Our programs and publications enlarge the American literary canon; democratize archives; and expand the notion of what is possible and valuable in a poem for students, aspiring poets, and readers.


Cave Canem envisions a world in which Black poets are empowered to:

  • Write authentically in a diversity of forms to tell their unique truths;
  • flourish in fellowship with other Black poets, creating bonds that transcend form, geography, class, age, and other differences;
  • have their works shared with and recognized by audiences;
  • and have access to justly paid work.


Cave Canem is a nonprofit organization, committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of Black poets. Founded by artists for artists, Cave Canem fosters community across the diaspora to enrich the field by facilitating a nurturing space in which to learn, experiment, create, and present. Cave Canem develops audiences for Black voices that have worked and are working in the craft of poetry.

Objectives & Strategies

  1. To create, maintain, and model a healthy operational culture by being thoughtful and conscientious about translating dreams to plans as well as building resources, operations, and culture to bring plans to sustainable fruition.
  2. To hold space for the full range of Black experiences, identities, and expressions by being intentional about making creative spaces that counter “the societal impulse to tokenize and homogenize the full range of Black experience, identities, and creative outputs” and to make space for Black poets to be who they are and do what they do.
  3. To document, amplify, and celebrate Black poets’ contributions to and impact on literature by capturing and telling the stories of Black poets and poetry for the record, claiming a stake as a contributor to and a repository of Black literary culture.
  4. To facilitate a positive change in the economics of what it means to be a Black poet by helping writers to find paths to paid work and meaningful careers by being intentional about developing networks to create professional opportunities inside and outside CC; set fees for compensating artists for their time and labor to be competitive (or better) in the market and sustainable.

Learn more about Cave Canem’s strategic direction by viewing an excerpt of our strategic plan. If you would like access to the complete strategic plan, please reach out to Executive Director Lisa Willis here