Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Notes on compiling an expansive list of award-winning poets

In the comments for my entry "A list of award-winning African American poets, 1975 - 2015," reader Evelyn Alfred asked, "How were you able to put this together? Did you go to one source or many?"

I was going to answer in the comments, but maybe an answer up here would be helpful to others as well.

First, no, I'm not aware of any single source that lists many award recipients. In part, that's why I decided to start compiling the lists. So how did I do it? Whew...all together, it took some years and patience.

For some time now, I've taken note of awards earned by African American  poets presented in their biographical sketches. I noticed some of the individual awards mentioned in Wikipedia entries on poets, and more recently, some awarding bodies like the National Book Award Foundation contained full lists online. But, no one collected various lists.

As I began blogging more, I would do year-end reviews mentioning awards that poets earned. I began to wonder what a comprehensive list would look like shortly after producing a review of poet accomplishments in 2014. So I ran a fairly extended list on January 1. That list was by award. On January 3, I ran a list of 185 entries by year from 1987 - 2015. 

I had been writing about prizes, awards & fellowships for a few years, but I really concentrated my research and documentation in 2015. After Robin Coste Lewis won the National Book Award for Poetry in November, I posted an entry and began to publish a series of pieces displaying some of the lists I compiled.

First, I ran an entry about African American recipients of the National Book Award for Poetry. Then, I ran entries about recipients of the Guggenheim Fellowship, then the Whiting Writers' Award, and next the Cave Canem Poetry prize. I published an entry on black women poets. After I published that list, someone asked to see a list of men poets recipients, which I produced. And finally, I produced a combined and extended list, arriving at 300 entries of recipients.

I've been studying African American poetry in a deliberate way since about 2000 or so. Following the field for more than a decade was helpful for identifying less well-known awards like the Naomi Long Madgett prize and the Stephen Henderson Poetry Award. I also had a clearer sense of what awards seemed to matter most to poets, based on their comments in interviews and moments that mattered to them (You'll see a number of poets mention the significance of Rita Dove winning the Pulitzer for instance).

I'm certain I haven't included everyone or everything in my lists, which I try to remind folks aren't exhaustive. But poetry is such a populous field where many people get overlooked, so some poets or their friends will send me messages letting me know who I forgot to mention.

Nonetheless, one of my main goals with this project was to build a large enough sample to get a sense of what has been happening with African American poets and awards over the last 40 years. 

A Notebook on prizes, awards & fellowships
A Notebook on 2015 Poetry Reflections

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