Tyehimba Jess Selects Kweku Abimbola as Winner of 2022 Academy of American Poets First Book Award

New York, NY (March 28, 2022)— Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess has selected Kweku Abimbola’s manuscript Saltwater Demands a Psalm as the recipient of the 2022 Academy of American Poets First Book Award, the nation’s most valuable first-book prize for a poet. Abimbola’s manuscript will be published by Graywolf Press in April 2023.

In addition to publication, Abimbola 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, he will be featured on Poets.org 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 Kemi AlabiThrea Almontaser, Leah Naomi GreenSuji Kwock KimMatt RasmussenMai Der VangJenny Xie, and Academy Chancellor Emeritus Alberto Ríos 

About Abimbola’s winning manuscript, Jess said: “In an era of sloganeering and solipsism, Saltwater Demands a Psalm is a healing, a diasporic divination, an elegy of ancestral elegance. Kweku Abimbola beseeches us: Do you want this / name? / Do you want this name / which is only a prayer? and hymns us a portrait of fully realized Black humanity to counter the bullet riddled headlines and internet memes. Here is a poet with enough heart to Sankofa across oceans, fasten his durag, and libate the page with Adinkra insight. Dear reader, be wise: fix your mind to wonder, lift this tome to your dome and Drink! Drink! Drink!

Born in The Gambia in 1997, Kweku Abimbola earned his MFA in Poetry Writing from the  University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He is of Gambian, Ghanaian, and Sierra Leonean descent. He is a finalist for the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, the second-place winner of Furious Flower’s 2020 poetry contest, and has work published and forthcoming in Shade Literary Arts, 20.35 Africa, The Common, Obsidian, Sunu Journal, and elsewhere. Abimbola’s writing primarily investigates colonization, black mourning, black boyhood, black aliveness, gender politics, and the spiritual consequences of climate change in West Africa. He works as a teaching artist for the literary non-profit Inside Out Literary Arts, where he holds workshops in poetry and creative writing for middle school students in Detroit Public Schools. He lives in Detroit, Michigan.

About Tyehimba Jess

Tyehimba Jess was born in Detroit, Michigan, and earned a BA from the University of Chicago and an MFA from New York University. He is the author of Olio (Wave Books, 2016), winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and leadbelly (Wave Books, 2005), winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Jess has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as a Whiting Award. Jess is a Professor of English at the College of Staten Island.

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 organization 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 organization also produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; established and organizes National Poetry Month each April; 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.

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 1,000 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 civitella.org.

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 graywolfpress.org.