Academy of American Poets awards activist Kemi Alabi the First Book Award
NEW YORK — Chicago-based writer and activist Kemi Alabi has received the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her work “Against Heaven” is scheduled for publication in Spring 2022.
Alabi, chosen for the honor by the acclaimed poet Claudia Rankine, will receive $5,000 and a six-week, all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center, an Umbrian 15th century castle in Italy. The academy will also purchase and distribute thousands of copies of “Against Heaven” to members of the Academy of American poets and will be featured in the American Poets magazine.
Rankine, author of “Citizen: An American Lyric” and “Just Us: An American Conversation” said in a statement Thursday that “Against All Heaven” was a virtuosic and multi-layered exploration of “black queer subjectivity.”
“At once sonic and disruptive, these poems pull together everything in a world where nothing is sacred,” she said. “In this energetic and brilliant debut, the thrust of the lyric dislodges all that is stuck and stagnant, creating new possibilities for utterance.”
This image released by the Academy of American Poets shows Kemi Alabi, recipient of the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets. Alabi's “Against Heaven” is scheduled for publication in Spring 2022. (Ally Almore/Academy of American Poets via AP) ORG XMIT: NYET407 (Photo: Ally Almore, AP)
Alabi is cultural strategy director of Forward Together, which helps communities combat marginalization based “on race, sexuality, and gender.” Previous winners of the First Book Award, established in 1975, include 1995 winner Nicole Cooley with her poetry book “Resurrection” and 2017 winner Jenny Xie for the book “Eye Level.”
The award was created to encourage new poets and allow emerging poets to publish their first book. The Academy of American Poets financially sponsors the award. Before 2021, the award title was named after American poet Walt Witman.
The Academy of American Poets awards many other honors including The Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize given to poets who write environmentally conscious literature, The Wallace Stevens Award for poetic mastery and The Ambroggio Prize given to poets who poets who pen their work in Spanish.
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