Saturday, November 21, 2015

Robin Coste Lewis, Black poets & the National Book Award

Robin Coste Lewis's wonderful volume Voyage of the Sable Venus (2015) won the National Book Award for Poetry. The award will assist in bringing Lewis's work to a wider audience, which is good given the importance of what she's produced.

As the winner of the award, Lewis joins notable company.  Consider the following list of African American winners (in bold) and finalists over the last 6 years:
2015: Robin Coste Lewis, Ross Gay, and Terrance Hayes
2014:  Fred Moten and Claudia Rankine
2013: Adrian Matejka
2012, Tim Seibles
2011: Nikky Finney, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Carl Phillips
2010: Terrance Hayes
2009: Carl Phillips and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Notably, 13 books by African American poets have been finalists for the award since 2009. Carl Phillips has been a finalist for the poetry award four times: in 1998, 2004, 2009, and 2011. Hayes was a finalist this year as well as a finalist and eventual winner in 2010.

What follows is a list of African American winners of the award between 1999 - 2015:
2015: Robin Coste Lewis for Voyage of the Sable Venus 
2011: Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split Poems.
2010: Terrance Hayes for Lighthead.
2006: Nathaniel Mackey for Splay Anthem
2000: Lucille Clifton for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000 
1999: Ai for Vice: New and Selected Poems
Unlike with the other winners, this book is Lewis's debut volume. What a way to kick off a career, with a National Book Award. The nature of her book, especially the catalog-like poem at the center of her volume, is also unique. Of course, Lewis extends a long tradition in black poetry and African American literary art in general by actively engaging history and representations of black people.    

A Notebook on prizes, awards & fellowships
Black Female Figures & Poetry Book Covers
10 years reading Leadbelly, Pt. 6: Jess, Shockley, and Lewis
The extraordinary ambition of Robin Coste Lewis's "Voyage of the Sable Venus"

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