The Literarian Award, 2016
This is the twelfth year the National Book Foundation has presented its Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which traditionally is given to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading. This year’s ceremony will mark the very first time that the award is given to an organization, Cave Canem.
The National Book Foundation announces Cave Canem as the recipient of its 2016 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Cave Canem, known as a home for African-American poets, will receive the award at the 67th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 16, 2016. This is the twelfth year that the Foundation has presented the Literarian Award, which traditionally is given to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading. This year’s ceremony will mark the very first time that the award is given to an organization. Past recipients are Dr. Maya Angelou, Joan Ganz Cooney, Dave Eggers, Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Terry Gross, Mitchell Kaplan, James Patterson, Barney Rosset, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., and Kyle Zimmer.
Poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady created Cave Canem in 1996 as a safe place for African-American poets to practice their craft. Cave Canem, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is recognized for having created a national movement that cultivates the artistic and professional growth of emerging and mid-level African-American poets in order to remedy their historic underrepresentation in the literary landscape.
“The National Book Foundation is steadfastly dedicated to ensuring that readers have access to diverse and excellent work that reflects their own experiences,” said David Steinberger, the Chairman of the Board of the National Book Foundation. “The Foundation is proud to be honoring Cave Canem at the 67th National Book Awards in recognition of their exemplary work in helping to level the playing field for African-American poets and for readers.”
“Cave Canem’s innovative and effective literary activism has been transformative to the world of letters,” said Lisa Lucas, the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “Their ongoing commitment to provide supportive channels for African American poets to thrive has yielded works that enrich the world’s literary culture. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Cave Canem as a champion of diverse voices and a leader in this movement.”
“Cave Canem’s innovative and effective literary activism has been transformative to the world of letters. Their ongoing commitment to provide supportive channels for African American poets to thrive has yielded works that enrich the world’s literary culture. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Cave Canem as a champion of diverse voices and a leader in this movement.”
—Lisa Lucas, Executive Director National Book Foundation
Cave Canem’s influential movement includes an annual fellows’ retreat; workshops lead by world-class faculty, such as Nikky Finney and Kevin Young; and partnerships with local, regional, and national institutions. They have also established book prizes in partnership with prestigious presses, conversations with legendary poets and scholars, and a poets tour. As it stands, Cave Canem fellows have over 250 books in print, have secured positions in academia, and are recipients of numerous major literary awards.
Among the fellows who have either won or been Finalists for the National Book Award for Poetry are Robin Coste Lewis (2015 Winner), Ross Gay (2015 Finalist), Terrance Hayes (2010 Winner and 2015 Finalist), Adrian Matejka (2013 Finalist), and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefan (2009 Finalist). Cave Canem Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith was a 2015 Finalist for Nonfiction. And, Bestiary by Donika Kelly, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry prize, is longlisted for the 2016 National Book Awards for Poetry. When Cave Canem was founded in 1996, only five African-American poets had been named National Book Award Finalists. From 1996 through 2016, twenty-two African-American poets have been either National Book Award Winners, Finalists, or have appeared on the Longlist.Cave Canem’s success in fostering both individual poets and African American poetry at large is clear.
Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country. Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors. Recipients of the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community receive $10,000.
History and Accomplishments
20 years ago, Cave Canem was conceived when poets Toi Derricote and Cornelius Eady were vacationing together in Pompeii, Italy. At the entryway of The House of the Tragic Poet, was the famous mosaic Cave Canem, which means “Beware of the Dog,” and signified to them that African-American poets need to have a safe space to practice their craft if they are to thrive.
Cave Canem’s flagship program is an annual writing retreat held at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PA that welcomes emerging African-American poets from across the United States and around the world. Poets become “fellows,” and are invited to attend two additional retreats within a five-year period. Among the major literary awards received by fellows are the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, the NAACP Image Award, the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the Ruth Lilly and Lannan Fellowships.
Delivered in partnership with five prestigious presses, Cave Canem administers three books awards of its own: The Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize, and the Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize.
In addition to the flagship writing retreat and the book awards, there are community-based workshops for emerging adult poets, conversations with legendary poets and scholars, new works readings showcasing poetry by contemporary African-American practitioners, cross-cultural craft conversations with poets of color in mid-career, a popular lecture series, and a poets tour representing over 70 fellows.
Cave Canem has over 20 local, regional, and national cultural partnerships and collaborative residencies for fellows at such sites as the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.
The success of Cave Canem has inspired the creation of Kundiman, a national organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian-American poetry; CantoMundo, which provides a space for the creation and critical analysis of Latina/o poetry; and Kimbilio, a community of writers and scholars committed to developing, empowering, and sustaining fiction writers from the African diaspora.