African American recipients of the American Poets Prizes 2020.

African American recipients of the American Poets Prizes 2020.

Nikky Finney, Chet’la Sebree, and Hanif Abdurraqib are the African American recipients of the American Poets Prizes 2020 announced on September 23, 2020.

The Academy of American Poets is the leading champion of poets and poetry in the United 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. Some of the awards handed out annually are the Wallace Stevens Award, Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, James Laughlin Award, Ambroggio Prize, Raizizz/De Palchi Bppk Prize, Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award, as well as the Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

The awards announced last week had several African American recipients and they were;

The Wallace Stevens Award: Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney
Nikky Finney

Wallace Stevens Award 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 John Ashbery, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Adrienne Rich.

This year’s winner is 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).

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.

Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize: Hanif Abdurraqib, A Fortune for Your Disaster (Tin House, 2019)

Hanif Abdurraqib
Hanif Abdurraqib

The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, worth 25,000, recognizes the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States in the previous year since 1994. 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).

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.”

James Laughlin Award: Chet’la Sebree, Field Study (FSG Originals, 2021)

Chet’la Sebree
Chet’la Sebree

The James Laughlin Award 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.

There was also an Indo-Caribbean winner Rajiv Mohabir who won the Morton Landon Translation Award.

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