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Honoring Black Poets

October is National Book Month, celebrated and promoted by the National Book Foundation. The  nonprofit organization was established in 1989 to foster appreciation of great writing in America. The foundation sponsors the National Book Awards annually, as well as public and educational programs.

This year, the foundation will present its 2016 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Cave Canem, the first time an organization has been chosen as the recipient.

This is the twelfth year that the Foundation has presented the Literarian Award, which traditionally goes to an individual for lifetime achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading.

Cave Canem is a non-profit literary service organization with headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. that is known as a home for African-American poets.

“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… exemplary work in helping to level the playing field for African-American poets and for readers.”

Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady created Cave Canem in 1996 as a safe place for African-American poets to practice their craft. 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 around the world to be fellows. They attend two additional retreats within a five-year period. Cave Canem’s activities also include workshops, book awards, readings and conversations with legendary poets. The organization’s name comes from the famous mosaic Cave Canem, which means “Beware of the Dog,” at the entry of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, Italy.

“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.


She said the organization’s “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 will receive its award at the 67th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 16, 2016. Past recipients of the award include Dr. Maya Angelou, author and poet; Joan Ganz Cooney, producer and a founder of the Sesame Workshop; Terry Gross, NPR host; James Patterson, novelist and literary activist, and Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of the New York Times and advocate for the newspaper’s coverage of books.

According to the foundation, Cave Canem fellows have published more than 250 books, made contributions in academia and won numerous literary awards. When Cave Canem started in 1996, only five African-American poets had become National Book Award finalists. Since then, 22 African-American poets have been either winners, finalists, or long-listed for a National Book Award.

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).

Tracy K. Smith, a Cave Canem fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner, was a 2015 National Book Award finalist for nonfiction. Donika Kelly, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem poetry prize, is long listed for the 2016 National Book Awards for her volume of poetry, Bestiary.

Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award winners, finalists and judges, as well as other writers and literary professionals from around the country. The National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors makes the final selections. Recipients of the Literarian Award receive $10,000.

In honor of African-American poets and National Book Month, presents books on legendary black poets from its collection. All of our selections are from the “Conversations With” series published by the University of Mississippi Press. offers discount prices on a variety of titles to enhance your knowledge and to provide resources for course work. Here are some selections available on

Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks, by Gloria Wade Gayles, $19.80, (List price: $22), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN: 9781578065752, pp. 192.

The books presents interviews with the distinguished poet that span three decades and take place in many settings. The interviewers include the historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel and poet and publisher  Haki Madhubuti. Brooks, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, spoke with passion about her work and the role of the poet in society. In the interviews, she discussed the Black Arts Movement and the people in Bronzeville, the fictional community she created.


Conversations with Audre Lorde, by Joan Wylie Hal, $45, (List price: $50), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN: 9781578066421, pp. 232.

Audre Lorde, self-described “Black feminist lesbian poet warrior mother” and more, displays her full range of quirks and gifts in this selection of interviews. She was born in Harlem to Caribbean parents and began writing at a young age. Her poems reflect contemporary social movements, civil rights, feminism,   and black female identity.


Conversations with Amiri Baraka, by Charlie Reilly, $22.50, (List price: $25), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN: 9780878056873, pp. 288.


In this collection of interviews, Amiri Baraka critiques his work and provides powerful insights into the African American experience, particularly in the last half of the 20th Century.

Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, was a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement and the liberation struggle.

“To me, social commentary and art cannot be divorced,” he said. “Art and life are the same: art comes out of life, art is a reflection of life, art is life.”

The collection of interviews includes four that had not been published previously, interviews conducted by Maya Angelou, Austen Clarke and David Frost, as well as a new interview by the editor of this volume.


Conversations with: Yusef Komunyakaa, by Shirley A. James Hanshaw, $45, (List price: $50), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN: 9781604734218, pp. 224.

Yusef Komunyakaa won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994 and has been one of the most prolific contemporary poets. The interviews in this book span two decades in which his work has included collaborations with creators of music, dance, drama, opera and visual arts. He describes his own work as “word paintings” and as “music.”


Please see these and other titles on Through its partnerships with leading publishers – representing university and independent presses large and small – brings you scholarly and academic titles about diversity, education, history and many other topics. Visit to purchase books at significant discounts.


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