The Academy of American Poets Announces the Recipients of the 2021 American Poets Prizes

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The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 American Poets Prizes, which are among the most valuable and venerable poetry prizes in the United States. This year the organization has awarded more funds to poets than any other organization globally, giving a total of $1,306,000 to poets at various stages of their careers.

TOI DERRICOTTE has received the WALLACE STEVENS AWARD, which is given annually to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Established in 1994, the award carries a stipend of $100,000. Recipients are nominated and elected by a majority vote of the Academy’s Board of Chancellors. Past winners of the prize include Nikky FinneyRita Dove, and Sonia Sanchez.

Toi Derricotte’s books of poetry include I: New & Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), which was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry; The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011); and Tender (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), which won the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. She is also the author of a literary memoir, The Black Notebooks (W. W. Norton, 1997), which won the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction. Together with Cornelius Eady, Derricotte co-founded the Cave Canem Foundation in 1996, a national poetry organization committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. Her other honors include the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement for Previous Winners of The Paterson Poetry Prize, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017 and is professor emerita of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

About Derricotte, current Academy of American Poets Chancellor Terrance Hayes said: “Toi Derricotte is the kind of master poet who maintains a restless relationship to poems. She moves between modes of memoir, essay, testimony and dream song. Her great regard  for form is never greater than her regard for experiment and candor. Her mentors and muses are honored in the poems: ‘Grace Paley Reading,’ ‘Watching A Roach Give Birth On YouTube, I Think Of Lucille Clifton Meeting God,’ ‘After the Gwendolyn Brooks Reading.’ Perhaps Adrienne Rich is most comparable among previous Wallace Stevens Award winners whose work on behalf of poets was as important as the poems themselves. Where Rich’s work seeded a generation of evolving gender poetics, Derricotte’s work as co-founder of Cave Canem, has seeded a generation of evolving Black poetics. Her poems are engines of idiosyncratic black female witness. Her work is distinguished for its fusion of intimacy and intensity. Like Ruth Stone and Louise Gluck, she is the kind of master poet who maintains a newcomer’s openness and vulnerability before her poems. She moves between modes of understanding and uncertainty to shape extraordinary expressions of truth.”

CAMILLE T. DUNGY has received the ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS FELLOWSHIP. Established in 1936 and given in memory of James Ingram Merrill, with generous support from the T. S. Eliot Foundation, this prize recognizes distinguished poetic achievement and carries with it a stipend of $25,000 and a residency at the Eliot summer home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Fellows are nominated and elected by a majority vote of the Academy’s Board of Chancellors. Past recipients include Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Frost, and Tracy K. Smith.

Camille T. Dungy is the author of Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017); Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize; Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010); and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006). She is also the author of Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton, 2017); the editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (University of Georgia Press, 2009); and the co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (Persea Books, 2009). Among Dungy’s honors are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is also a two-time recipient of the Northern California Book Award, in 2010 and 2011, and a Silver Medal Winner of the California Book Award. Dungy is a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University and lives in Fort Collins.

About Dungy, current Academy of American Poets Chancellor Brenda Hillman said: “Whether she’s writing riveting lyrics, formally inventive sonnets, innovative environmental poetry or intimate asides from what she calls ‘the timeless space of the domestic,’ Camille Dungy has expanded poetry in the last few decades. In what has been called ‘a series of survival narratives,’ Dungy’s masterful books weave accounts of family, of Black history, and of the earth’s evolution with particular insight. In a fascinating array of forms, her work brings together research and wisdom, placing metaphors for endangered species beside stories of parenting and life cycles. Dungy can write joyful arguments and cautionary tales. As an editor of the ground-breaking anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, she has profoundly reconfigured the ‘nature poem’ to include centuries of Black experience. As an essayist in Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History, she writes of global encounters with others as a working mother and as a traveling poet. Her work inspires us with its feminist power, and does not cordon off romantic and modernist literary traditions from contemporary ones. Camille Dungy is a poet of tremendous intellect and great compassion; her work gives new meaning to poetry of the self and the community by showing the interconnectedness of all beings.”

HONORÉE FANONNE JEFFERS’ The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan University Press, 2020) has received the LENORE MARSHALL POETRY PRIZE. Awarded by the Academy of American Poets since 1994, this $25,000 prize recognizes the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States in the previous year. Past recipients include Charles WrightAdrienne Rich, and Kevin Young. The judges were Cornelius EadyVievee Frances and Elise Paschen.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the author of one novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper, 2021), and five poetry collections, including The Age of Phillis: Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2020), which received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Poetry and was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry; and The Gospel of Barbecue (The Kent State University Press, 2000), selected by Lucille Clifton for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. Jeffers has won awards or fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation for Women Writers, the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress, and she was a 2021 USA Mellon Fellow. She won the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, and in 2020, she was inducted into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame. She is currently a professor of English at the University of Oklahoma.

About Jeffers’ winning book, judges Cornelius Eady, Vievee Francis, and Elise Paschen said: “In The Age of Phillis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has written a deft, highly researched, deeply engaging collection of lyric-narrative poems that will challenge the reader as it draws us into the age and life of Phillis Wheatley and will leave us with questions we must ask ourselves from who gets to write poetry to how and why the treatment of Phillis as a poet and black woman still resonates today. ‘The core of mercy: / not intellect but / a nagging fire’ writes Jeffers in the voice of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, c. 1747 in the poem ‘Still Life With God #1.’ And the qualities of mercy are a core concern in this harrowing book whose anguish as well as its promise is hidden by the formality and decorum of the 1700’s exquisitely drawn by Jeffers. Yes, this is another book that seeks to address the (mis)history of African American history in America, and why not. The history is long, rich, painful and still largely unaddressed. How important it is to keep examining and tracking and disclosing a history that is foundational to every aspect of American culture. And here, in this monumental book, Jeffers braves a journey back allowing the reader the opportunity to (re)read one of American letters foundational poets, Phillis Wheatley. A journey that aptly conflates Wheatley’s journey with Jeffers. The Age of Phillis both upturns any easy narratives of Wheatley and provides a nuanced and broad context for the era in which she lived. The book also does something more; its poems make a disconcerting and illuminating statement about the care for and rights of children, whether a child slave during the early American (U.S.) history or child immigrant attempting to cross the border into American (U.S.) history. And the question of mercy’s thread is never lost.”

JAMES CAGNEY’s Martian (Nomadic Press, 2022) has won the JAMES LAUGHLIN AWARD, which is given to recognize and support a second book of poetry forthcoming in the next calendar year. Offered since 1954 and endowed in 1995 by the Drue Heinz Trust, the annual award is named for the poet and publisher James Laughlin, founder of New Directions. The winning poet receives a cash prize of $5,000 and a one-week residency at the Betsy Hotel in Miami; the Academy of American Poets also distributes copies of the book to thousands of its members. Past recipients include Donald HallSharon Olds, and Vijay Seshadri. The judges were Mark BibbinsAimee Nezhukumatathil, and Ladan Osman.

James Cagney is the author of Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour of Chaos Theory (Nomadic Press, 2018), winner of the PEN Oakland 2019 Josephine Miles Award. Cagney is a Cave Canem fellow who lives in Oakland.

About Cagney’s winning book, judges Mark Bibbins, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Ladan Osman said: “Martian makes new arguments for blackness, challenging and mystifying elemental understandings of our bodies in space. James Cagney’s collection is remarkable because it refuses defense or explanation, instead favoring experimentation and exploration through intergalactic collapses of history. These poems shove and rock us in all the best ways. Cagney gathers up a poetry that is alive—a living, breathing, fearless collection not afraid to ask searing questions like, ‘Who is running the gift shop in our museum of blood?’ Martian swerves between incantation and anecdote, between rant and reflection, in poems that are irreverent, impassioned, scathing. Whether repurposing the lethal mantras of imperialism or reflecting on scenes of family and adolescence, this book is an urgent and surprising treatise on survival: ‘I don’t know where I come from // I just know I woke up here.’”

CARLOS AGUASACO’s Cardenal en mi ventana con una máscara en el pico / Cardinal in My Window with a Mask on its Beak, translated by JENNIFER RATHBUN, has won the AMBROGGIO PRIZE, which is a $1,000 publication prize given for a book-length poetry manuscript originally written in Spanish and with an English translation. The winning manuscript is published by the University of Arizona Press, a nationally recognized publisher of award-winning works of emerging and established voices in Latinx and Indigenous literature, as well as groundbreaking scholarship in Latinx and Indigenous studies. Established in 2017, the Ambroggio Prize is the only annual award of its kind in the United States that honors American poets whose first language is Spanish. This year’s judge was Rigoberto González.

Carlos Aguasaco is the Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies and Chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY). He has edited eleven literary anthologies and published seven books of poems, most recently The New York City Subway Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2020). He has also published a short novel and an academic study of Latin America’s prime superhero, El Chapulín Colorado. He is the editor of Transatlantic Gazes: Studies on the Historical Links between Spain and North America (IF-UAH, 2018). Carlos is the founder and director of Artepoetica Press (artepoetica.com). He is also director of The Americas Poetry Festival of New York (poetryny.com) and coordinator of The Americas Film Festival of New York (taffny.com). His poems have been translated into English, French, Portuguese, Romanian, Galician, and Arabic.

Jennifer Rathbun is a Spanish Professor and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Classics at Ball State University. She’s published fourteen books of poetry in translation by Hispanic authors such as Alberto Blanco, Minerva Margarita Villarreal, Fernando Carrera and Juan Armando Rojas Joo; two anthologies of poetry denouncing femicide along the US-Mexico border; and the poetry collection El libro de las traiciones / The Book of Betrayals (Artepoetica Press, 2021)Rathbun completed her Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in Spanish, specializing in contemporary Latin American Literature. She’s a member of The American Literary Translators Association and she’s the Associate Editor of Ashland Poetry Press.

About Aguasaco’s winning manuscript, judge Rigoberto González said: “Cardenal en mi ventana con una máscara en el pico / Cardinal in My Window with a Mask on its Beak takes the reader on a journey through the surreal and the melancholic, to inventive scenarios like an encounter between Stein and Vallejo going to the movies, to the heartbreaking stories of sideshow attractions where bodies are stripped of their humanity. Yet this book reaches beyond surprising premises and literary inspirations to arrive at a place where the poet also finds wonder in everyday encounters and solace in the sobering knowledge that everything comes to an end, but not before dispelling its magic upon the world: like that red bird mirroring the masked face during the pandemic, like the arresting language of the poet that will eventually succumb to silence. Each poem in this exquisite collection brings a startling (and necessary) revelation about our aches, follies, and mortality, to light.”

MARIA DAHVANA HEADLEY’s Beowulf: A New Translation (FSG Originals, 2020) has won the HAROLD MORTON LANDON TRANSLATION AWARD. Founded in 1976, this $1,000 prize recognizes a published translation of poetry from any language into English that demonstrates literary excellence. This year’s judge was Indran Amirthanayagam.

Maria Dahvana Headley is the New York Times-bestselling author of eight books, most recently Beowulf: A New Translation (FSG Originals, 2020) a verse translation from the Old English, named by Kirkus, NPR, Vox, The New StatesmanThe Irish Times, and The Atlantic Monthly as a book of the year. Other works include The Mere Wife (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018) a contemporary novel adaptation of the Beowulf story set in American suburbia, and two novels for young adults, Magonia (HarperCollins, 2015), and Aerie (HarperCollins, 2016), among others. She’s been shortlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates, Nebula, Shirley Jackson, and Hugo Awards and received the World Fantasy Award, and her short stories regularly appear in Year’s Best anthologiesHer essays on gender, canon, politics, propaganda and mythology have been published and covered in The New York TimesThe Daily Beast, Harvard’s Nieman Storyboard and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence.

Judge Indran Amirthanayagam wrote of Headley’s winning translation: “Maria Dahvana Headley has satisfied the most deeply-felt and desired dream of any translator, to transfer into her language the words, feelings and cultural icons of a classic, lost tongue. Her Beowulf is wild and wiry, rich and ribald. It sings and dances, curtseys and copulates, although with a more graphic update of the latter, and it quite simply takes one’s breath away as I would imagine the sight of Mars to the first earth traveler, or failing that, a modern dragon crushing cities in its path. This Beowulf is born and eats from language at home in the world of the internet, robots, genes but maintains the alliterations and rhymes of traditional poetry, keeping the tradition alive and renewing it at the same time. Seamus Heaney gave us his Beowulf twenty-two years ago. Now is the time for Maria Dahvana Headley. Her work will last in the way that a YouTube video can always be seen again and again, in the way that classic lines of poetry get chiseled in the brain to repeat when the times demand the consolation and the healing of words, as today’s pandemic-driven, climate change monstrous, Grendel and Grendel’s mother’s reality insist. Here is the answer: Beowulf, 2021.”

PAULA BOHINCE’s translation of the work of Italian poet Corrado Govoni has won the RAIZISS/DE PALCHI FELLOWSHIP. Established in 1995, this $25,000 prize is given for the translation into English of a significant work of modern Italian poetry. The fellowship is given to enable an American translator to travel, study, or otherwise advance a significant work-in-progress. The winning translator also receives a five week residency at the American Academy in Rome. The judges were Moira Egan, Rebecca Falkoff, and Graziella Sidoli.

Paula Bohince is the author of three collections, all from Sarabande Books. Her translations of Govoni have received the Jules Chametzky Translation Prize from The Massachusetts Review and the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Award from Southwest Review. She has been the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholar, a Fellow of the NEA, a Brown Foundation Fellow, Dartmouth Poet in Residence at The Frost Place, the Amy Clampitt House Resident Fellow, and a “Discovery”/The Nation Award recipient. She was the 2020 John Montague International Poetry Fellow at University College Cork in Ireland. She lives in Pennsylvania.

Judges Moira Egan, Rebecca Falkoff, and Graziella Sidoli wrote of Bohince’s winning translation: “Corrado Govoni (1884-1965) is one of the most important 20th century Italian writers, though his work is not widely circulated in English. He was associated with the Crepuscular poets and with Futurism and is known for the crisp poignance and essential simplicity of his images. He was a master at capturing the inner vibrancy and mystery of everyday things. Paula Bohince is an accomplished poet whose skills are commensurate with the project of translating Govoni’s work. Her renditions, which read as true poems, not as literal translations, deploy unexpected sonic patterns and strange, radiant images deeply resonant with the senses. She draws contemporary readers into Govoni’s world with simple yet powerful diction, allowing the sly, wry humor of the original to shine through.”

EDWIN WILLIAMSON has won the ALIKI PERROTI AND SETH FRANK MOST PROMISING YOUNG POET AWARD for his poem “Life As We Know It.” Established in 2013, the award recognizes a student poet with a cash prize of $1,000. The prize is open to winners, who are twenty-three years old or younger, of the current year’s University & College Poetry Prizes, also given by the Academy of American Poets. Submissions are judged by one of the past or current members of the Academy’s Board of Chancellors. This year’s judge was Academy of American Poets Chancellor Brenda Hillman.

Edwin Williamson is working toward an MA in English for creative writing at Central Michigan University. He currently edits for both The Central Review and Arthropod Literary Journal from the comfort of his home in Mount Pleasant, MI.

In April and May, the Academy of American Poets announced that KEMI ALABI received the FIRST BOOK AWARD for their debut collection Against Heaven which will be published by Graywolf Press in 2022. They received $5,000 and a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy. Claudia Rankine judged the award. The Academy also announced the recipients of the 2021 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships, 23 Poets Laureate who were awarded a combined and historic total of $1,100,000 in recognition of their literary merit and to support their respective civic programs over the course of a year: Marcus Amaker (Charleston, SC), Semaj Brown (Flint, MI), Roscoe Burnems (Richmond, VA), Aileen Cassinetto (San Mateo County, CA), Leslie Contreras Schwartz (Houston, TX), Magdalena Gómez (Springfield, MA), Georgina Marie Guardado (Lake County, CA), Chasity Gunn (Elgin, IL), Kari Gunter-Seymour (Ohio), Luisa A. Igloria (Virginia), Angela Jackson (Illinois), Dasha Kelly Hamilton (Milwaukee, WI and Wisconsin state), Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker (Montana), Bobby LeFebre (Colorado), Debra Marquart (Iowa), Trapeta B. Mayson (Philadelphia, PA), Anis Mojgani (Oregon), Chelsea Rathburn (Georgia), Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson (San Antonio, TX), Lloyd Schwartz (Somerville, MA), M. Bartley Seigel (Upper Peninsula, MI), and Brian Sonia-Wallace (West Hollywood, CA).

The Academy of American Poets sponsors over 200 annual UNIVERSITY & COLLEGE POETRY PRIZES, distributing close to $25,000 each year. Many of America’s most esteemed poets won their first recognition through this program, including Toi DerricotteMark DotyLouise Glück, Jorie Graham, Joy HarjoRobert HassLi-Young LeeSylvia Plath, Mark Strand, and Ocean Vuong.

About the Academy of American Poets

Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states. The organization annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization through its prize program, giving a total of $1.25 million to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. The organization also produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; organizes National Poetry Month; publishes the popular Poem-a-Day series and American Poets magazine; provides award-winning resources to K–12 educators, including the Teach This Poem series; hosts an annual series of poetry readings and special events; and coordinates a national Poetry Coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture.

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Her fiction writing has received the Author / Ambassador at Library Journal Self-e Authors, Winner Queen of the West Reader Favorite Award, Amazon Bestseller - Historical, Double finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Mystery and Humorous Categories. Writing humorous cozy mysteries and romantic comedy, Jocie can find humor in most everything, even when she shouldn't. She lives in the Midwest on Dust Bunny Farm with her family.