New York, NY (September 23, 2020)— The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 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 $1,290,250 to poets at various stages of their careers.
NIKKY FINNEY 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 have included Rita Dove, Sonia Sanchez, and Jorie Graham.
Nikky Finney is the author of five poetry collections, including Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems and Artifacts (Northwestern University Press, 2020) and Head Off & Split (Northwestern University Press, 2011), winner of the 2011 National Book Award, as well as the short story collection Heartwood (University Press of Kentucky, 1997). Her other honors include the Aiken-Taylor Award from the Sewanee Review and the University of the South, a PEN American Open Book Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry. She currently teaches at the University of South Carolina, where she is the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters, with appointments in both the Department of English Language and Literature and the African American Studies Program, while also guiding and mentoring students in the MFA program. Finney holds four Honorary Doctorates of Humanities from Claflin University (South Carolina), Leslie University (Massachusetts), Wofford College (South Carolina), and Transylvania University (Kentucky). In 2020, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
About Finney, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Kwame Dawes said: “Very few American poets have, over the years, come to embody the role of ‘chronicler of our time’ as has Nikky Finney. And by ‘our time’ I refer to an epoch that has shaped a culture—one that stretches over at least three centuries, and one that continues to unfold in unsettling and meaningful ways. Finney has tackled the hard things in our society and world, and in so doing she reminds us that political consciousness, fierce moral conviction and urgent and timely relevance in the hands of a gifted and visionary poet, do not preclude a capacity to produce great work of lasting beauty and aesthetic invention. Finney is an American poet, she is a Southern poet, she is a South Carolinian poet, but she is most productively and revealingly understood as a poet of the African diaspora, a poet whose imagination was forged out of the monumental horror of the Middle Passage and its repercussions. In this way, her reach and relevance are global in the way that Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry is global in its stature, in the way that Eduard Glissant’s work is global, in the way that Toni Morrison’s work is global in scope and power and urgent relevance. Finney, herself, is a treasure and I can think of no worthier recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award than Nikky Finney, because she necessarily broadens, beyond Stevens’ legacy, what it means to be a great American poet.”
CARMEN GIMÉNEZ SMITH 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.
Carmen Giménez Smith is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Be Recorder (Graywolf Press, 2019), which was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry, the PEN Open Book Award, the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Goodbye, Flicker (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry; and The City She Was (Center for Literary Publishing, 2011). Her memoir, Bring Down the Little Birds (University of Arizona, 2010) was a finalist for the American Book Award. Giménez Smith was named one of Poetry Society of America’s New American Poets in 2009. She received a Howard Foundation grant for creative nonfiction in 2011 and was a 2019 Guggenheim fellow. She was the guest editor for Poem-a-Day in December 2018, and currently is a Professor of English at Virginia Tech and at Bennington College. Giménez has served as the publisher of Noemi Press since 2002. She lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.
About Giménez Smith, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Brenda Hillman said: “The work of Carmen Giménez Smith is a marriage between a comet and a meteor. Her poetry makes a distant and profound orbit— with materials received from folklore and myth, from surrealism and historical document, from popular culture and canonical women’s voices— but it also seems to be arriving in a flash in the night sky for the first time, with a dazzling style of its own. In her many collections, Giménez Smith has gathered strength and light from a still-unfolding innovative women’s tradition, drawing on deeply felt lyric, polyphonic wordplay, cultural references, and visual effects. She writes full-heartedly as a mother, as a Latinx daughter of immigrants, as a cultural critic; she writes in mourning and anger, yet with love and with hope. Whether her voice is disturbing or celebratory, ironic or songlike as she chronicles the lives of family oppressed by labor or duty or puzzles over dilemmas of motherhood during historical crisis, Giménez Smith writes with inventive wisdom rooted in personal experience: ‘Necessity is the mother of all that pours out of me,’ she writes. The beauty of her myriad forms demonstrates the universal power of art.”
HANIF ABDURRAQIB’s book A Fortune for Your Disaster (Tin House, 2019) 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 Wright, Adrienne Rich, and Kevin Young. The judges were Garrett Hongo, Tim Seibles, and Raquel Salas Rivera.
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. He is the author of two collections of poetry, A Fortune for Your Disaster (Tin House Books, 2019) and The Crown Ain’t Worth Much (Button Poetry, 2016), which was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize and nominated for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. He is also the author of the essay collections Go Ahead in the Rain (University of Texas Press, 2019), which was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in Nonfiction, and They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio, 2017). His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.
About Abdurraqib’s winning book, judge Garrett Hongo said: “Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Fortune for Your Disaster is a revelation. The poet combines street sense and vernacular with an unfailing lyric sensibility, executing a language of provocation and tenderness both, infusing it with fresh rhythms and an unerring, hybridized diction that is as sophisticated as it is immediate. This is an intricately crafted work, not only poem-to-poem, but through the range and arc of the entire book as a composition in itself, the work orchestrated with stylistic and thematic leitmotifs that weave throughout, addressing street life, erotic intimacy, and the bracing bounce of urban existence. The work is hip and it hooks you in, brashly charming and compassionate by turns. If the early LeRoi Jones and the late Robert Hayden were to take a walk together, the bright foam of their talk might gleam with the effervescence and beauty of this book. Mercy, mercy me, Hanif Abdurraqib knows what’s going on.”
CHET’LA SEBREE’s book Field Study (FSG Originals, 2021) 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 Hall, Sharon Olds, and Vijay Seshadri. The judges were Rick Barot, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.
Chet’la Sebree is the author of Mistress (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2019) selected by Cathy Park Hong as the winner of the 2018 New Issues Poetry Prize and nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Poetry, and Field Study, forthcoming from FSG Originals in June 2021. She is the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.
About Sebree’s winning book, judge Rick Barot said: “The flawed and ordinary self refracted through the complex prisms of race, gender, and culture—Chet’la Sebree’s Field Study is a lyric reckoning of extraordinary candor. Often startlingly intimate, Field Study discloses and calls out, laughs and glares, and inhabits urbane knowing and tender uncertainty by turns. In tandem with its thematic breadth, the book’s formal amplitude encompasses an exuberant intersectionality of genres—the epistolary mode, the lyric essay, the commonplace book, the confession, the literary collage, the tweet-like salvo. The result is a book-long poem that wholly invigorates poetry as a category. Field Study is unlike anything its readers will have encountered before—a work of fierce intensity and engulfment.”
MARA PASTOR’s Deuda Natal / Natal Debt, co-translated by MARÍA JOSÉ GIMÉNEZ and ANNA ROSENWONG, 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 Pablo F. Medina.
Mara Pastor is a leading Puerto Rican poet, editor, and scholar. She has authored six full-length poetry books in Spanish as well as the bilingual chapbooks As Though the Wound Had Heard (Cardboard House Press, 2017), translated by María José Giménez, and Children of Another Hour (Argos Books, 2014), translated by Noel Black. Her latest book, Natal Debt, translated by María José Giménez and Anna Rosenwong, was selected for the 2020 Ambroggio Prize and is forthcoming from The University of Arizona Press in 2021. Her work has appeared in journals such as The Puerto Rico Review, The Common, The Offing, Connotation Press, Latin American Literature Today and Seedings. She is an Associate Professor of Spanish at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce.
María José Giménez is a poet, translator, and editor whose work has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Studios at MASS MoCA, the Breadloaf Translators’ Conference, Canada Council for the Arts, and Banff International Literary Translators’ Centre. Assistant translation editor of Anomaly and a former Board member of the American Literary Translators Association, Giménez works between English and Spanish, and from the French, and is the translator of Tilting at Mountains by Edurne Pasaban (Mountaineers Books, 2014), the novel Red, Yellow, Green by Alejandro Saravia (Biblioasis, 2017), and the chapbook As Though The Wound Had Heard by Mara Pastor (Cardboard House Press, 2017). Her translated and creative work is featured at The Brooklyn Rail, Lunch Ticket, The Common, Prelude, Asymptote, and elsewhere, and in the anthologies Aftermath: Explorations of Loss & Grief (Radix Media, 2018), Cloudburst: An Anthology of Hispanic Canadian Short Stories (University of Ottawa Press, 2013), and Cuentos de nuestra palabra en Canadá: Primera hornada (Editorial nuestra palabra, 2009). Among other awards and honors, Giménez has been named the 2019–2021 Poet Laureate of Easthampton, Massachusetts.
Anna Rosenwong is a translator and editor. Her publications include Rocío Cerón’s Diorama (Phoneme Media, 2014), winner of the Best Translated Book Award, and here the sun’s for real (Autumn Hill Books, 2018), selected translations of José Eugenio Sánchez. She has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, the University of Iowa, and the American Literary Translators Association. Her scholarly and creative work has been featured in such venues as World Literature Today, The Kenyon Review, and Modern Poetry Today.
About Pastor’s winning manuscript, judge Pablo F. Medina said: “Deuda natal es un libro de una sencillez y una profundidad extraordinarias. Busca y (re)busca muchas verdades y las encuentra no en valores absolutos, sino en los quehaceres diarios--el hogar, el amor romántico y maternal, los caminos que dan al mar y el ir y venir de la migración, mundo en que vivimos muchos de nosotros. Deuda natal es un libro para todos los que vienen, los que van y los que permanecen. / Natal Debt is a book of extraordinary simplicity and depth. It searches and (re)searches many truths and finds them, not in absolute values, but in the objects and acts of daily life: the home, romantic and maternal love, the roads that lead to the sea, and the comings and goings of migration, a world many of us inhabit. Natal Debt is a book for everyone, those who come, those who go, and those who stay.”
RAJIV MOHABIR’s translation of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara by Lalbihari Sharma (Kaya Press, 2019), written about by Gaiutra Bahadur in her monograph Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (University of Chicago Press, 2013), 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 Daniel Borzutzky.
Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017), winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize and recipient of the Eric Hoffer Honorable Mention in 2018, and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books, 2016), winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017. He is the translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (Kaya Press, 2019) which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award. His memoir, forthcoming in 2021, won Reckless Books’ 2019 New Immigrant Writing Prize. He is an Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College and the translations editor at Waxwing Journal.
Judge Daniel Borzutzky said of Mohabir’s winning translation: “Lalbihari Sharma’s I Even Regret Night is a remarkable collection that can be read as a poetics of post-coloniality, and as a poetics of migration and transformation. It is a gem of the Americas, and a fascinating book that brings readers of contemporary poetry in the United States an extremely rare glimpse of writing from an indentured laborer brought from India to the Caribbean in the early twentieth century. As a document of cultural history, I Even Regret Night is powerful and fascinating. And as an archival excavation, this book exemplifies how important the work of translation is to helping us understand how cultures survive amid the brutalities of global capitalism. Rajiv Mohabir’s procedural methods are complex, generously articulated, and intricately crafted; and the result is a singular text that both respects the contexts and traditions out of which these writings emerged, while also making them stand on their own as English-language poems of grace, brilliance and vivacity. In this book, translation is art, writing, and creation: a stunning translation with exceptional historical and literary significance.”
GEOFFREY BROCK’s translation of Last Dream by Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli (World Poetry Books, 2019) has won the RAIZISS/DE PALCHI BOOK PRIZE. Established in 1995, this $10,000 book prize is given to recognize the outstanding translation into English of a significant work of modern Italian poetry. The judges were Maria Esposito Frank, Giorgio Mobili, and Michael Palma.
Geoffrey Brock is the author of two books of poetry, the editor of The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012), and the translator of numerous volumes of poetry and prose. His poems and translations have appeared in journals such as Poetry, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review, and his awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Translation at the University of Arkansas.
Judge Giorgio Mobili wrote of Brock’s winning translation: “Geoffrey Brock’s scintillating translations from Giovanni Pascoli’s verse are certain to raise the status of this phenomenal innovator of Italian poetry among the Anglophone readership. Eschewing literalness, Brock takes on the daunting task of replicating the hypnotic musicality of the original, evincing an uncannily keen ear for bringing into relief the complex web of correspondences (in the Baudelairian sense) that like a secret undertow inspirit the poetry of this quiet revolutionary dressed in the clothing of a rural bard. The crown jewel of this book must be ‘The Sleep of Odysseus,’ a poem of epic melancholy whose transcendental beauty we find breathtakingly rendered in Brock’s luminous English. All in all, a masterful achievement.”
IRA GOGA has won the ALIKI PERROTI AND SETH FRANK MOST PROMISING YOUNG POET AWARD for their poem “The Kitchen, Indexed.” 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 Forrest Gander.
Ira Goga is a recent graduate of Smith College, where they received a BA in biochemistry. Goga is the winner of the 2020 Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award for their poem, "The Kitchen, Indexed." Goga currently works researching antibodies in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and lives in a barn.
About “The Kitchen, Indexed,” judge Forrest Gander said: “The description of a personality might begin with a list of objects the person keeps. Who would have a no-kill mousetrap and a stone with a crystal in its hollow? But in this poem, the list of delineated objects yields to the stated intentions of the maker of the list, whose identity is not as circumscribed as the objects, and who must, in fact, go through the trouble of renaming themselves. The sharp enjambments and line breaks, and the pared down syntax add to the psychological tension of trying to nail something down, even the smallest truth.”
In April and May, the Academy of American Poets announced that THREA ALMONTASER received the WALT WHITMAN AWARD, the Academy’s first book award, for her poetry collection The Wild Fox of Yemen which will be published by Graywolf Press in 2021. She received $5,000 and a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy. Harryette Mullen judged the award. The Academy also announced the recipients of the 2020 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: Honey Bell-Bey (Cuyahoga County, OH), Tina Cane (Rhode Island), Tina Chang (Brooklyn, NY), Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills aka the Twin Poets (Delaware), Rosemarie Dombrowski (Phoenix, AZ), Beth Ann Fennelly (Mississippi), Angelo Geter (Rock Hill, SC), Margaret Gibson (Connecticut), Rodney Gomez (McAllen, TX), Elizabeth Jacobson (Santa Fe, NM), Stuart Kestenbaum (Maine), Susan Landgraf (Auburn, WA), Maria Lisella (Queens, NY), Porsha Olayiwola (Boston, MA), Alexandria Peary (New Hampshire), Emmy Pérez (Texas), Mary Ruefle (Vermont), Janice Lobo Sapigao (Santa Clara County, CA), John Warner Smith (Louisiana), Laura Tohe (Navajo Nation), Amie Whittemore (Murfreesboro, TN), and Assétou Xango (Aurora, CO).
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 Derricotte, Mark Doty, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Li-Young Lee, Sylvia Plath, Mark Strand, and Ocean Vuong.
About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states. Founded in 1934, the organization annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization through its prize program, giving a total of $1,250,000 to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. The Academy also produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; originated and 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. This year, in response to the global health crisis, the organization joined six other national organizations to launch Artist Relief, a multidisciplinary coalition of arts grantmakers and a consortium of foundations working to provide resources and funding to the country’s individual poets, writers, and artists who are impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In another similar effort, the Academy, along with two other literary arts organizations—the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses and the National Book Foundation—established the Literary Arts Emergency Fund, which provided emergency relief funding to nonprofit literary arts organizations and publishers across the U.S. that have experienced financial losses as a result of the pandemic.