Cave Canem Prize

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The Cave Canem Prize is awarded annually to the best debut collection of poems submitted by a Black poet. At some point, all poets face the challenge of communicating their work beyond the first manuscript.To assist Black poets in surmounting that obstacle, Cave Canem established the Prize and created a direct route to three publishers: Graywolf Press; University of Pittsburgh Press; and University of Georgia Press.

Launched in 1999 with Rita Dove’s selection of Natasha Trethewey’s Domestic Work, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Cave Canem Prize and a historic moment for the organization. Cave Canem is offering a prize of $10,000 for the selected manuscript, the largest prize in the organization’s history and one of the largest first poetry book prizes in the country. In honor of the 25th anniversary, inaugural winner Natasha Trethewey will judge the 2025 Cave Canem Prize.

 View previous Prize Winning Books


Application

Award: Winner receives $10,000, publication by Graywolf Press in Fall 2025, 15 copies of the book, and a feature reading with the judge presented by Cave Canem.

Eligibility: All unpublished, original collections of poems written in English by Black poets who have not had a full-length book of poetry published by a professional press. Cave Canem defines Black poets as any poet who identifies as a member of the African Diaspora. 

Black 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 University of Pittsburgh Press; and authors who have published a book or have a book under contract with University of Georgia 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.

Guidelines:

  • Submit manuscripts online at cavecanem.submittable.com. 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 60-75 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 that do not adhere to submission guidelines will not be considered.
  • Post-submission revisions or corrections are not permitted.

2024 Winner

Los Angeles Poet Laureate and Cave Canem board member Lynne Thompson selected Nigerian essayist and poet Ajibola Tolase for his manuscript, 2,000 Blacks. Tolase will receive $1,000, publication of his book by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and a feature reading to take place at The New School in Fall 2024. On the occasion of receiving the prize, Tolase spoke with The Washington Post. Read the full article here.

Ajibola Tolase is a graduate of the creative writing Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A chapbook of his poems entitled Koola Lobitos was published in 2021 as part of the New Generation African Poets Series, edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. His published works appear in LitHub, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry and elsewhere. In addition to the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, Tolase has received an Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship at Colgate University and a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.


The 2024 Cave Canem Prize is supported, in part, by private funds from Con Edison, and in part by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.