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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.

2021 Cave Canem Poetry Prize

Award: Winner receives $1,000, publication by Graywolf Press in fall 2022, 15 copies of the book, and a feature reading. Both the winner and runner-up will be invited to individual critique sessions with the final judge.

Deadline: Manuscripts must be submitted via Submittable no later than Friday, April 30, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST. Winner announced via email by or before October 2021.

Entry Fee: Free

Final Judge: Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Judge reserves the right not to select a winner and/or honorable mentions.)

First Readers: Abdul Ali, Tara Betts, and Breauna Roach
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Eligibility: All unpublished, original collections of poems written in English by Black writers of African descent who have not had a full-length book of poetry published by a professional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 Graywolf Press; and authors who have published a book or have a book under contract with Graywolf 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 a cover letter in the Submittable text box—DO NOT include within the .doc or .pdf document of the 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.
  • Manuscripts not adhering to submission guidelines will not be considered.
  • Post-submission revisions or corrections are not permitted.

2020 Winner

Selected by judge Douglas Kearney, Aurielle Marie is the 2020 winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her manuscript Gumbo Ya Ya. Aurielle Marie will receive $1,000, publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press in fall 2021, complimentary copies of the book, and a feature reading.

Aurielle Marie is a gender/queer and Black essayist, poet, and community organizer hailing from the Deep South. They’ve received invitations to fellowships from Lambda Literary, VONA Voices, the Watering Hole, and Tin House. Her work is featured or forthcoming in TriquarterlyThe GuardianTeen VogueBlack Warrior ReviewAdroit JournalVinyl, and BOAAT. They’re the Lambda Literary 2019 Poetry Emerging Writer-in-Residence and the 2019 Ploughshares Emerging Writers Award winner for Poetry. Aurielle writes and speaks about all things Blackness, bodies, sex, and pop culture from a Black feminist lens.

Honorable Mention: Marvin Campbell for Black Love Mixtape

Funder: National Endowment for the Arts