The Academy Of American Poets Announces The Recipients Of The 2020 American Poets Prizes

This year the organization has awarded more funds to poets than any other organization globally.

By: Sep. 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 John Ashbery, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Adrienne Rich.

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 GIMENEZ 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 the 2020 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 & 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 JOSE GIMENEZ 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

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