|Natasha Trethewey earned a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003.|
Let's assume you're the kind of person who's interested in the economic histories and cultural capital of contemporary black poetry. That is, consider that you might want to trace the distribution of prizes and awards among African American poets. Well, if so, one place you'll end up will be the Guggenheim Fellowship, which has awarded fellowships to 31 black poets over the last 80 years.
More than half of those poets received the fellowship within the past 15 years. That number coincides with additional trends suggesting that African American poets are winning more now, during the contemporary era, than ever before. As noted in another entry, we've witnessed an increased rate of African American finalists for the National Book Award for Poetry over the last several years.
There is no high-profile awards show and acceptance speeches each year when the Guggenheim fellowships are announced. Yet, for decades now, the fellowship has quietly been one of the most consistent sources of financial support and prestige for African American literary artists. The prestige part may be especially important, since past distinctions and winnings lead to future distinctions and winnings.
Below, I've compiled a list of Guggenheim Fellowship recipients in the poetry category from 1935 - 2015. I have not included well-known poets Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka who earned the fellowship in 1935 and 1965, respectively. Hughes was a recipient in the fiction category and Baraka in drama.
Guggenheim Fellowship recipients in the poetry
1937: Sterling Brown
1946: Gwendolyn Brooks
1947: Gwendolyn Brooks
1971: Edward Kamau Brathwaite
1974: Jay Wright
1974: Etheridge Knight
1976:: Michael S. Harper
1983: Rita Dove