New York, NY (September 16, 2020)— The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce that Claudia Rankine, author of the award-winning collection Citizen, will judge the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award, the nation’s most generous first-book prize for poetry. The winner will receive $5,000 and the winning manuscript will be published by Graywolf Press in 2022. In addition, the Academy of American Poets will purchase and send thousands of copies of the book to our members, which will make it one of the most widely distributed poetry books of the year. The winner will also receive a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy, and will be featured in American Poets magazine and on, which reaches millions of readers each year.

Established in 1975, the Academy of American Poets First Book Award is designed to encourage the work of emerging poets and enable the publication of a poet’s first book. From 1975 to 2020, this award was titled in tribute to Walt Whitman, which will continue to be reflected in all of our materials in perpetuity. We also maintain a special section of devoted to Whitman in recognition of his foundational contribution to American poetry and influential literary legacy. 

In order to bring this prize into alignment with our other signature prizes for poets, which are underwritten or endowed, we have changed the name of this prize to the Academy of American Poets First Book Award. At the same time, we will begin to seek dedicated multi-year funding or an endowment gift for the prize. Specifically, we intend to seek a donor who will want the name of this award to reflect the ongoing work of the Academy of American Poets in recognizing the essential and influential contributions that poets of color have made and make to American poetry. Endowing this prize would also enable us to eliminate the entry fee, making it more accessible to more poets in the years ahead. 

The Academy of American Poets First Book Award is one of the annual American Poets Prizes, a collection of twelve major prizes given by the Academy, and is currently made possible by financial support from our members. Other prizes include the Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

Submissions to the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award are being accepted online between now (September 16) and November 16, 2020, and the recipient will be announced in April 2021, the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Poetry Month. All poets who meet the eligibility requirements are encouraged to apply. 

To review the eligibility requirements and official guidelines, and to submit to the Academy of American Poets First Book Award, visit:

About Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s most recent book is Just Us: An American Conversation (Graywolf Press, 2020), a collection of essays, poems, and photographs. She is also the author of five poetry collections, including Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), which received the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Book Prize for Poetry, the 2015 Forward Prize for Poetry, the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the PEN Open Book Award, and the LA Times Book Award for poetry, and Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004). Rankine is also the author of three plays, including Help and The White Card; co-producer of “The Situation,” a video series, alongside John Lucas; and the founder of the Open Letter Project: Race and the Creative Imagination. Her honors include a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and the Jackson Poetry Prize, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets for distinguished poetic achievement, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowments for the Arts, and United States Artists. In 2017, she founded the Racial Imaginary Institute, a "a moving collaboration with other collectives, spaces, artists, and organizations towards art exhibitions, readings, dialogues, lectures, performances, and screenings that engage the subject of race." She is currently a Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University.

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, through its prize program, the organization annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization, giving a total of $1,250,000 to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. We also produce, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; originated and organize National Poetry Month; publish the popular Poem-a-Day series and American Poets magazine; provide award-winning resources to K–12 educators, including the Teach This Poem series; host an annual series of poetry readings and special events; and coordinate 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 Academy 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.