The Poetry Foundation announces Patricia Smith as the winner of the 2021 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Susan Briante as winner of the 2021 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, and Bryan Byrdlong, Steven Espada Dawson, Noor Hindi, Natasha Rao, and Simon Shieh as the 2021 Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellows. The awards are sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization and publisher of Poetry magazine, and will be presented at a virtual awards ceremony on October 21, open to all. This is the first time in many years that the recipients of these annually awarded prizes will be honored together at one ceremony.
“Every one of these extraordinary writers is a credit to the art form, each bringing their own unique experiences and approaches to enrich the literary landscape,” said Michelle T. Boone, president of the Poetry Foundation. “It is a joyous occasion to be able to celebrate artists in poetic lineage with one another, what they’ve created thus far, and what is yet to come.”
Chicago’s Own Patricia Smith Receives High Honor
The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize annually honors a living US poet with an award of $100,000 in recognition of their outstanding lifetime achievement. It is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets and one of the nation’s largest literary prizes.
Patricia Smith (she/her) is a Chicago poet, one whose love for the city and its people is palpable in her poems, especially her collections Life According to Motown and Big Towns, Big Talks. Smith has inspired countless poets over the course of her career, and she continues to serve as a role model and mentor for poets in Chicago and beyond. Her formal dexterity and the array of voices, narratives, and histories covered in her work—from exuberant lyrical poems and lively crowns of sonnets to persona poems through which she inhabits a diverse cast of characters—set Smith apart as a leader in her craft.
In addition to her many other accolades, Smith is a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. Her work across the page-stage divide in poetry marks an important contribution towards dismantling false dichotomies and paving the way for new generations of poets to explore the full range of poetic possibilities available to them.
Smith is the author of eight books of poetry, including Incendiary Art, winner of a Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and an NAACP Image Award, and a finalist for both the Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, which won a Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Blood Dazzler, a chronicle of the human and environmental cost of Hurricane Katrina, which was nominated for a National Book Award. Her next poetry collection, upcoming in 2022, will combine dramatic monologues with 19th century photos of African-Americans from her extensive private collection.
Founded in 1986, past Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize recipients include W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Joy Harjo, Marilyn Nelson, and most recently Marilyn Chin.
Susan Briante Wins for Hybrid Work of Criticism
The $7,500 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism prize annually honors the best book-length works of criticism published in the prior calendar year; the award recognizes biographies, essay collections, and critical editions that consider the subject of poetry or poets.
Susan Briante (she/her) receives the award for Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics, and the state. Examining migration and the fraught bureaucracies of the US-Mexico border, Briante delivers a provocative meditation on what official records reveal or obscure. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.”
Briante is also the author of poetry collections: Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders, all published by Ahsahta Press. Her awards include honors from the MacDowell Colony, the Academy of American Poets, and the US-Mexico Fund for Culture. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona, where she also serves as co-coordinator of the Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program. The program brings MFA students to the US-Mexico border to engage in reciprocal research projects with community-based environmental and social justice groups.
The 2021 Criticism finalists were editor Mayra A. Rodriguez Castro for Audre Lorde: Dream of Europe, and Rosanna Warren for Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters; the most recent prior recipient was Saskia Hamilton in 2020.
An Exceptional Cohort of Young Poets
The Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships recognize outstanding young poets, providing support early in their careers to encourage the further study and writing of poetry in the form of their choosing. Each poet receives a $25,800 prize, making the fellowships among the largest and most prestigious awards available for young poets in the United States.
The 2021 Fellows cohort:
Bryan Byrdlong (he/him) is a Black writer from Chicago, Illinois. He is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, and a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California. Byrdlong’s honors include First Place in Boulevard Magazine’s 2020 Poetry Contest For Emerging Poets, and a 2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholarship from The Adroit Journal.
Winner of a Barriss and Iola Mills Award and a Kneale Award, Steven Espada Dawson (he/him) is a writer from East Los Angeles, currently located in Austin, Texas. The son of a Mexican immigrant, he received his MFA from Purdue University, and has served as a poetry editor for Sycamore Review and a senior poetry editor for Copper Nickel. Espada Dawson teaches community-based poetry workshops for the Austin Library Foundation and provides mentorships for young poets at Ellipsis Writing.
Noor Hindi (she/her) is a Palestinian-American poet and reporter. Hindi received her BA and MFA from the University of Akron, and is a 2020/2021 Reveal Investigative Fellow through the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry, Hobart, Jubilat, and Literary Hub, and among others. Her debut collection of poems, Dear God. Dear Bones. Dear Yellow. is forthcoming from Haymarket Books.
Winner of the 2021 APR/Honickman First Book Prize for her debut collection Latitude, Natasha Rao (she/her) is a poet and educator from New Jersey. Rao holds a BA from Brown University and an MFA from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. Named a 2021 Djanikian Scholar by The Adroit Journal, her work appears or is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Nation, Poetry Northwest, and Narrative, among others. She is a managing editor of American Chordata, and lives in Brooklyn.
Simon Shieh (he/him) is the founder of the teen creative arts platform InkBeat Arts, and a cofounder of the Spittoon Literary Magazine. Shieh has taught American Literature and Society at China Foreign Affairs University and served as Writer in Residence at the International School of Beijing. His honors include second place in Narrative Magazine‘s 2020 30 Below contest and inclusion in Best New Poets 2020.
The 2021 Fellowship finalists were Diannely Antigua, Alexis V. Jackson, Aurielle Marie, Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley, Kelan Nee, Tamara Panici, and Julian Randall.