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Cave Canem Poetry Prize

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Launched in 1999 with Rita Dove’s selection of Natasha Trethewey’s Domestic Work, this first-book award is dedicated to the discovery of exceptional manuscripts by black poets of African descent. View previous Prize Winning Books.

2020 Cave Canem Poetry Prize

Award: Winner receives $1,000, publication by University of Pittsburgh Press in fall 2021, 15 copies of the book and a feature reading.

Deadline: Manuscripts must be submitted via Submittable no later than Monday, March 9, 2020 at 11:59 pm EST. Winner announced via email by or before October 2020.

Entry Fee: $20. Entry fees are non-refundable.

Final Judge: Douglas Kearney (Judge reserves the right not to select a winner and/or honorable mentions.)

First Readers: Kwoya Fagin Maples and Dustin Pearson

Manuscripts are read without the reviewers and judge’s knowledge of contestants’ identities.

Eligibility: All unpublished, original collections of poems written in English by Black writers of African descent who have not had a full-length book of poetry published by a professional press. Authors of chapbooks and self-published books with a maximum print run of 500 may apply. Simultaneous submission to other book awards should be noted: immediate notice upon winning such an award is required. Winner agrees to be present in the continental United States at her or his own expense shortly after the book is published in order to participate in promotional reading(s).

Exclusions: Current or former students, colleagues, employees, family members and close friends of the judge; current or former employees and members of the board of Cave Canem Foundation or the University of Pittsburgh Press; and authors who have published a book or have a book under contract with University of Pittsburgh Press are ineligible.

If any of the selected authors fall under the above exclusions, they will be disqualified and a replacement chosen from among the finalists. As the poetry community is small and the contest is judged without knowledge of the submitter’s identity, acquaintance with the judge or participation in a workshop taught by the judge are not disqualifying criteria.


  • Submit manuscripts online at Hard copy submissions will not be considered.
  • One manuscript per poet.
  • Upload manuscript as a .doc or .pdf document.Include a title page with the title only and table of contents. Author’s name should not appear on any pages within the uploaded document.
  • Include your cover letter in the Submittable text box—DO NOT include within the .doc or .pdf document of your manuscript. Cover letter should include author’s brief bio (200 words, maximum) and list of acknowledgments of previously published poems.
  • Manuscript must be paginated, with a font size of 11 or 12, and 48-75 pages in length, inclusive of title page and table of contents. A poem may be multiple pages, but no more than one poem per page is permitted. Columns are not permitted.
  • Manuscripts not adhering to submission guidelines will not be considered.
  • Post-submission revisions or corrections are not permitted.

2019 Winner

Selected by judge Evie Shockley, Chekwube Danladi is the 2019 winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her manuscript Semiotics, which will be published by the University of Georgia Press in fall 2020. Danladi receives $1,000, 10 complimentary copies of the book and a feature reading in New York City.

Chekwube Danladi is a writer and a reformed punk. She has received support from Callaloo, Kimbilio, Hedgebrook, the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, & the Vermont Studio Center. Her chapbook, Take Me Back, appeared as part of the New-Generation African Poets: Nne box set in 2017. She lives in Chicago.

Honorable Mention: Nicholas Goodly for The Dowser

Funder: National Endowment for the Arts