Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Calculating lost in contemporary black poetry

Whenever I post a list of African American poets who've won prizes, fellowships, and special appointments, folks are understandably led to pay attention to all that winning. But there's another side: losing. The subjects of losing and debt deserve more attention in histories of black poetry.

It's difficult, though, since non-winning nominees for awards are often not publicly disclosed. We also do not have ways of tracking the thousands of poets who have entered MFA programs over the last thirty years, picked up considerable debt, and are still, years later, struggling to pay off loans with no gainful employment in their fields. 

So we have this fascinating paradox: more than ever before, black poets are winning and losing. 

On the issue of losing, let's do some estimates... 

Every year between 1999 and 2021 (exceprt 2008), Cave Canem awarded a prize for a poetry manuscript. Let's assume, conservatively, that 20 poets entered the competition each year. So we're talking roughly 420 poets. During that same time period, the National Book Award (N. B. A.) Foundation and the Pulitzer Foundation bestowed awards. Let's say that 15 black poets, again conservatively, were nominated. So 345 for the N. B. A. and 345 for the Pulitzer. So with those three awards, we'd have 1,110 nominations. 

During that time, we had 22 Cave Canem winners, 7 N. B. A. winnders, and 5 Pulitzer winners. So 34 black winners or 3% of the total 1,110 nominations. Put another away, 97% of black poet nomiees for those three prizes did not win. 


Friday, January 14, 2022

A few notes on awards and black poetry

For years now, I've tracked awards, prizes, fellowships, and special appointments earned by black poets. I recently provided an update with awards by title as well as a list of recipients 1987-2021

There's more work to do, but for now I took a look at 246 total awards and prizes won by 120 poets. There are 32 different awards on the list I'm currently considering. 

64 of the poets are men, who are the recipients of 129 of the awards. 
54 of the poets are women, who are recipients of 114 of the awards.
2 of the poets are nonbinary, who are recipients of 3 of the awards.

Here are the top six organizations that granted awards: 
Guggenheim Fellowship (31 awards)
Cave Canem Poetry Prize (22)
Whiting Award (22) 
Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships (19) 
Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for poetry (15) 
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry (13)
Increasing numbers of black poets have won major awards since 2000. To take one example, three black poets won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in the 20th century, and already five black poets have won the prize in the 21st century. How do we account for the increase in black award recipients? 

Several factors come into play. First, and of course, there's so much good writing out there. Yet, I want to quickly add that many black poets have been really good writers for many decades. So why relatively few awards back in the day? That's where some new factors come into play.

For one, today instutitions that grant awards are more diverse and accepting of black poets than in the past. They are more accepting in part because they are more diverse.

The Academy of American Poets, for instance, now has, after considerable struggle, a sizable number of black and other non-white poets on the Board of Chancellors, who get to make decisions about recipients. When the Board was all-white, they only selected white recipients. Now that organization has black poets, and they've awarded black poets. 

Related, several other organizations such as the Whiting Foundation, Guggenheim Fellowship, National Poetry Series Winner, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships, began to bestow more awards to black recipients over the last two decades. 

Another factor is there are more awards and thus possibilites to win for black poets today than 20 years ago. Caven Canem began offering its first poetry prize in 1999, and then began an additional one in 2009. In 2007, the NAACP began offering a poetry award, and in the same year, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Foundation began offering a poetry award. Also in 2007, Poets & Writers, Inc. began offering the Jackson Poetry Prize. 

Yet another factor, which is a little less visible, is judging. When poets when win awards or when they are finalists, groups hire them to serve as judges. An increase in black poetry judges has understandably contributed to an increase in more diverse recipients. 

32 poetry awards, prizes, etc.

Here's a list of 32 poetry awards, prizes, fellowships, special appointments included in my list of recipients.
• Academy of American Poets Fellowship
• Anisfield-Wolf Award for poetry
• Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award
• Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry
• Bollingen Prize for American Poetry
• Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize
• Cave Canem Poetry Prize
• Gish Prize
• Guggenheim Fellowship
• Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for poetry
• Jackson Poetry Prize
• James Laughlin Award
• Kate Tufts Discovery Award
• Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
• Lannan Literary Award for Poetry
• Lannan Literary Fellowship
• Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
• Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry
• MacArthur Fellowship
• NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry
• National Book Award for Poetry
• National Book Critics Circle Award
• National Poetry Series Winner
• Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
• Robert Frost Medal
• Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships
• Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
• Stegner Fellowship
• US Poet Laureate
• Wallace Stevens Award
• Whiting Award
• Yale Series of Younger Poets award


African American recipients of poetry prizes, awards (1987-2021)

Here's a partial list of awards, prizes, and fellowships that poets earned since 1987. See here, for a list by award, prize, or fellowship title. 

[More on Prizes and awards in African American poetry]

1987: Rita Dove (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)
1987: Ai (American Book Award)
1987: Etheridge Knight (American Book Award)
1989: Gwendolyn Brooks (Robert Frost Medal)
1989: Askia M. Touré (American Book Award)
1989: Audre Lorde (American Book Award)
1990: M. NourbeSe Philip (Guggenheim)
1990: Thylias Moss (National Poetry Series Winner)
1991: Thylias Moss (Whiting Award)
1991/92: Lucille Clifton (Shelley Memorial Award)
1992: Marilyn Nelson (Anisfield-Wolf Award)
1992: Allison Joseph (John C. Zacharis First Book Award)
1992: Kevin Yooung (Stegner Fellowship)
1992: Derek Walcott (Nobel Prize for Literature)
1993: Cyrus Cassells (Lannan Literary Award for Poetry)
1993: Cornelius Eady (Guggenheim Fellowship)
1993: Kevin Young (National Poetry Series Winner)
1993: Nathaniel Mackey (Whiting Award)
1993: Eugene B. Redmond (American Book Award)
1993: Essex Hemphill (Pew Fellowship in the Arts)
1994: Yusef Komunyakaa (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)
1994: Yusef Komunyakaa (Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award)
1995: Thylias Moss (Guggenheim Fellowship)
1995: Cyrus Cassells (William Carlos Williams Award)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A selection of responses from 300 black students about challenges during the pandemic

I continually do surveys and conduct an ongoing oral history project so that I can chart what undergraduates are thinking and the language they are using to describe their experiences and feelings. It's important to keep the perspectives of black students in conversations. You'd be surprised how absent black student voices are in discussions concerning black students and diversity.  

In December 2021, I asked approximately 330 black students from SIUE what they thought one of the most important challenges to consider as we continued to deal with life during a pandemic. An overwhelming majority of students pointed to mental health as a major concern, and they also noted other related topics.

Below is a selection of responses grouped into five categories: racism, mental health, lack of interaction, lack of motivation, difficulties learning, and other. 

• One of the most important challenges we black students face is racism. It's all across this campus and everywhere in the world. SIUE needs to diversify the institution more and educate everyone about racism.–E. K.

• Racism happens to be a big problem when going to a PWI, we deal with people from all over the world and with different types of home training. It's almost impossible to stop because racism doesn't just come from one person it's passed down from generation to generation. –A. M.

• Being at a PWI itself is a challenge. As African Americans, we feel unsafe or unwanted here. We don’t have many programs or much to represent us. So it’s hard for us to show who we are and what we are capable of. –R. S.

• One of the challenges we face is finding people like us to relate to. We are a minority as a whole in America, and this school is predominately Muzungu [a Swahili term for wandering white people] so it’s hard. Another challenge is subtle racism/microaggressions. --O. D.

Mental health 
 • Personally I feel our mental health, as African Americans, should be more looked upon in college, especially since we’re new to this whole pandemic ordeal. I feel everyone should play a part in making everyone comfortable. --C. J.

• S.: From my experience, one of the most important challenges of discussion should be the mental health and resources for students who are mothers. The pandemic has at times called for student mothers to be teachers of advancing methodology that's unfamiliar while submitting themselves to unfamiliar information and subject matters. While this reduced to mere responsibility, it carries great weight when having to be done in the context of heightened fears, fatigue of already short attention spans, and the absence of the time that would normally be a break for the mother. The exhaustion from that and not having resources to show understanding of our plight and provide some sort of strategy or boost proves to be difficult and unseen. --J. S.

• I would say the most prominent problems amongst black students especially during this pandemic is mental health, social skills, and financial stability. I can say from experience that the pandemic was very mentally straining on me. In the beginning of the pandemic I never left my room, let alone my bed. I was 4 hours away from my friends and I was just very down and lost all motivation for school. –B. B.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The year in African American poetry, 2021

Here’s a partial list of publications and news items related to African American poets and poetry that caught my attention this past year. 

• May: Carl Phillips wins Jackson Poetry Prize.
• April: Francine J. Harris wins the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Poetry Award.
• April: Tracie Morris receives Guggenheim fellowship.
• Joshua Bennett, Ladan Osman, and Xandria Phillips win Whiting Awards. 
• September: Courtney Faye Taylor wins 2021 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.
• September: Toi Derricotte wins Wallace Stevens Award.  
• September: Camille T. Dungy receives the Academy of American Poets Fellowship.
• September: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers wins the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.
• September: James Cagney wins the James Laughlin Award.
• September: Patricia Smith wins the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
• September: Reginald Dwayne Betts receives MacArthur Fellowship.
• September: Hanif Abdurraqib receives MacArthur Fellowship.
• September: Bryan Byrdlong receives Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships.
• October: Sonia Sanchez wins Gish Prize.

Little Girl Blue by Sequoia Maner
• Breathe by Angel Dye

Volumes of poetry
Tenderness by Derrick Austin
Master Suffering by CM Burroughs   
Playlist for the Apocalypse by Rita Dove
Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
• SHO by Douglas Kearney
Punks: New & Selected Poems by John Keene
Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: Selected Poems, 2001-2021 by Yusef Komunyakaa
Somebody Else Sold the World by Adrian Matejka
• Collected Poems by Sonia Sanchez
Mutiny by Phillip B. Williams


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Coverage on the passing of bell hooks


We've lost a black feminist giant with the passing of bell hooks. I wanted to mark the coverage. 

Dec. 21: Remembering the Clarion Call of bell hooks - Patricia J. Williams - The Nation
Dec. 21: bell hooks, We Will Always Rage On With You - George Yancy - Truthout
Dec. 20: The Power of Bell Hooks's Gaze - Eli Reed - New Yorker
Dec. 18: bell hooks....a foundational force in Black feminist thought - Barbara Ransby - The Guardian
Dec. 17: bell hooks was a mighty fire - Rebecca Walker - LA Times
Dec. 17: The Wide-Angle Vision, and Legacy, of bell hooks - Jennifer Schuessler - New York Times
Dec. 16: Groundbreaking Feminist Scholar bell hooks Dies at 69 - Nora McGreevy - Smithsonian
Dec. 16: bell hooks remembered - The Guardian
Dec. 15: The Revolutionary Writing of bell hooks - Hua Hsu - The New Yorker
Dec. 15: bell hooks, Pathbreaking Black Feminist, Dies at 69 - Clay Risen - New York Times
Dec. 15: Author And Activist bell hooks Has Died At 69 - Nicole Fallert - BuzzFeed
Dec. 15: bell hooks (1952–2021) - Artforum
Dec. 15: bell hooks works on the Intersectionality of Race and Feminism - McKenzie Jean-Philippe - Oprah Daily
Dec. 15:7 Books You Should Read to Honor bell hooks's Legacy - Madeleine Fournier - Pop Sugar
Dec. 15: bell hooks...dies at 69 - Nardine Saad - Seattle Times
Dec. 15: bell hooks gave us so much to consider in terms of form. - tamara k. nopper - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks made me want to fight and write and love. - Chani Nicholas - Twitter
Dec. 15: The brilliance + bravery of bell hooks. - Ava DuVernay - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks is a model for theorists who... - cyree jarelle - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks wrote directly for and to Black women - Bolu Babalola - Twitter
Dec. 15: We lost bell hooks. The heart breaks. - Lisa Lucas - Twitter
Dec. 15: Capitalize the B in Black. Lowercase the b in bell hooks - George M. Johnson - Twitter
Dec. 15: When bell hooks sat down with Laverne Cox - Naomi Simmons-Thorne - Twitter
Dec. 15: rest in power, bell hooks 💔 - Haymarket Books - Twitter
Dec. 15: I keep this picture of bell hooks pinned above my desk - Emily Raboteau - Twitter
Dec. 15: We mourn the tremendous loss of bell hooks - Well-Read Black Girl - Twitter
Dec. 15: Rest In Peace #bellhooks - Mahogany L. Browne - Twitter
Dec. 15: So many of us wouldn't even be Black Feminists without bell. - Dr. jenn m. jackson - Twitter
Dec. 15: I taught both Tate and bell hooks’ work in both my classes - Scott Poulson-Bryant - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks wrote her dissertation on ...The Bluest Eye and Sula? - Toni Morrison Project - Twitter
Dec. 15: Rest In Peace and Power, bell hooks. - Black Women Radicals - Twitter
Dec. 15: Five bell hooks Quotes To Carry With You - Janice Gassam Asare - Forbes 
Dec. 15: bell hooks, Renowned Author and Feminist, Dead at 69 - Mekishana Pierre‍ - WFAA
Dec. 15: Author, activist and scholar bell hooks has died at 69 - Alison Stine - Salon/Alternet
Dec. 15: Queer Black Feminist Writer bell hooks Dies at 69 - Trudy Ring - Advocate
Dec. 15: bell hooks, author and activist, dies aged 69 - Lucy Knight - The Guardian
Dec. 15: Acclaimed author and activist bell hooks dies at 69 - Minyvonne Burke and Michelle Garcia - NBC News
Dec. 15: bell hooks, trailblazing Black feminist dies at 69 - Harrison Smith - Washington Post
Dec. 15: Feminist author and poet bell hooks, dies at 69 - Elise Brisco and Hannah Yasharoff - USA Today
Dec. 15: bell hooks, Pioneering Intersectional Scholar, Dead at 69 - Jon Blistein - Rolling Stone
Dec. 15: I was a TA for Gloria’s AfAm lit course. - Tera W. Hunter - Twitter
Dec. 15: I admired so many things about the impressive body of work - Deborah E. McDowell - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks made a comment during... - Koritha Mitchell - Twitter
Dec. 15: Many of us are not just sad or bereft -- we're angry - Crystal Marie Fleming - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks raised so many of us. This is devastating. - Jamilah Lemiuex - Twitter
Dec. 15: Changed my life. Rest in splendor, #bellhooks - Nicole Fleetwood - Twitter
Dec. 15: Black women can never rest and so we die early. - Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor - Twitter
Dec. 15: This book changed the direction of my life. - Kiana Cox - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks invented the kind of Black feminist cultural commentary - Kimberly Nicole Foster - Twitter
Dec. 15: What was the first #bellhooks book you read? - Sarah J. Jackson - Twitter
Dec. 15: And bell hooks gave us so much!! - Deborah E. McDowell - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell is for Beautiful. She created so much beauty. - Margo Natalie Crawford - Twitter
Dec. 15: The passing of bell hooks hurts, deeply. - Ibram X. Kendi - Twitter
Dec. 15: Our dear, dear elder, bell hooks has transitioned - Son of Baldwin - Twitter
Dec. 15: The entirety of my intellectual and creative project is this - Tressie McMillan Cottom - Twitter
Dec. 15: Rest well, Ancestor bell hooks. - Treva B. - Twitter
Dec. 15: bell hooks 💔 - Elizabeth Cali - Twitter
Dec. 15: Word just reached me that bell hooks has died!! - Deborah E. McDowell - Twitter
Dec. 15: Thank you, bell hooks, for all that you gave us - Alondra Nelson - Twitter
Dec. 15: Acclaimed author bell hooks dies at 69 - Linda Blackford - Lexington Herald Leader