New York, NY (April 8, 2021)— Award-winning poet Claudia Rankine has selected Kemi Alabi’s manuscript Against Heaven as the recipient of the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award, the nation’s most valuable first-book prize for a poet. Alabi’s manuscript will be published by Graywolf Press in April 2022.

In addition to publication, Alabi will receive a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy, as well as $5,000. The Academy of American Poets will also purchase and send thousands of copies of the book to its members, making it one of the most widely distributed poetry books of the year. In addition, they will be featured on and in American Poets magazine.

Established in 1975, the Academy of American Poets’ First Book Award is designed to encourage the work of emerging poets. Previous recipients include poets Nicole Cooley, Suji Kwock Kim, Eric Pankey, Matt Rasmussen, Mai Der Vang, Jenny Xie, and Academy Chancellor Emeritus Alberto Ríos

About Alabi’s winning manuscript, Rankine said: “Against Heaven activates multiple lexicons, seeking to construct the immensity of black queer subjectivity with guile and formal virtuosity. At once sonic and disruptive, these poems pull together everything in a world where nothing is sacred. In this energetic and brilliant debut, the thrust of the lyric dislodges all that is stuck and stagnant, creating new possibilities for utterance.”

Born in Wisconsin in 1990, Kemi Alabi earned their BA in Philosophy & Political Science from Boston University. Alabi organizes narrative power campaigns and projects, most recently as cultural strategy director of Forward Together. Alabi is coeditor of The Echoing Ida Collection (Feminist Press, 2021) and lives in Chicago, IL.

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 the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University and, beginning in the summer of 2021, she will be a Professor of Creative Writing at New York University. 

About the Academy of American Poets

Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states. The Academy annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization through its prize program, giving a total of $1.25 million to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. The Academy also produces, 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 the country’s culture. 

About Civitella Ranieri

Located in a fifteenth century castle in the Umbrian region of Italy, Civitella Ranieri Center is a workplace for international writers, composers, and visual artists. Since 1995, Civitella has hosted more than six hundred Fellows and Director’s Guests. In keeping with the spirit of its founder, Ursula Corning, and the tradition of hospitality and support for the arts that she established at the castle, the Center enables its Fellows to pursue their work and to exchange ideas in a unique and inspiring setting. For more information, visit

About Graywolf Press

Graywolf Press is a leading independent, nonprofit publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of contemporary American and international literature. Graywolf champions outstanding writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry at all stages of their careers to ensure that diverse voices can be heard in a crowded marketplace. Recent books published by Graywolf have won the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award, among others. For more information, visit