University of Pittsburgh
June 14, 2016

Pitt Celebrates Black Poetry

Pitt’s Center for African American Poetry and Poetics sponsors day of events, honoring the 20th annual Cave Canem Retreat for African American Poets, June 19
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—In recognition of the 20th annual Cave Canem Retreat for African American Poets, the University of Pittsburgh will sponsor a day of events celebrating Black poetry June 19. Cosponsored by Pitt’s Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, in collaboration with the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and the Ace Hotel, the events are open to the public. Additional information is available by emailing

The marquee affair, “Celebrating Black Poetry and 20 Years of Cave Canem,” will begin at 6 p.m. in the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. The event will feature readings by critically acclaimed poets Duriel E. Harris, Tyehimba Jess, Camille Rankine, and Danez Smith. Parental discretion is advised due to some adult language and content. Ticket information can be accessed here.

The “Pittsburgh Mini Book Fair” will be held from noon to 3 p.m. in the gym of the Ace Hotel, 120 S. Whitfield St., East Liberty. The event will feature book-sale tables sponsored by local artists, bookstores, publishers, and literary groups. Participating organizations will include the University of Pittsburgh Press, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, East End Book Exchange, Langston Hughes Poetry Society of Pittsburgh, and Steel City Slam. Throughout the book fair, local poets will perform works commemorating Father’s Day.

The Cave Canem Retreat for African American Poets is a part of the Cave Canem Foundation, a nonprofit literary services organization founded by Pitt English Professor Emerita Toi Derricotte and poet Cornelius Eady. Established in 1996, the organization seeks to remedy the underrepresentation of African American poets in the nation’s literary programs and workshops. Now headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., the foundation has grown to become one of the most influential poetry organizations in the world. Cave Canem fellows—poets who have previously participated in the retreats—have won Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthur “Genius Grants,” National Poet Laureate honors, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

“For more than two decades, the Cave Canem Foundation has been cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. On this occasion we honor Cave Canem and its enduring commitment to investing in Black poetry,” said Dawn Lundy Martin, an associate professor of English at Pitt and co-director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics. “Given the current political landscape, it’s as important as it has ever been that we highlight African American artistry. This event brings four dynamic poets together to ‘speak truth to power,’ in tribute of Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, and all who have contributed to Cave Canem’s mission.”

Poets performing as part of “Celebrating Black Poetry and 20 Years of Cave Canem” have been affiliated with the Cave Canem Foundation as a fellow, grant recipient, or artist-in-residence. Their literary works are emblematic of the range of poetic styles that make up the American literary landscape. Brief biographical information on each poet follows:

A stage performer and sound artist as well as a poet, Duriel E. Harris is a cofounder of the performance ensembles the Black Took Collective and Call & Duriel E. HarrisResponse. Her poetry collections include Drag (Elixir Press, 2003), Amnesiac: Poems (Sheep Meadow, 2010), and the forthcoming No Dictionary of a Living Tongue. Her work has been featured in numerous literary journals and translated into German, Polish, and Spanish. Harris is an associate professor of creative writing at Illinois State University and editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora.

Tyehimba Jess is the author of the poetry collections Olio (Wave Books, 2016) and leadbelly (Wave Books, 2005), which won the 2004 Tyehimba JessNational Poetry Series. Olio was named a “top poetry book of spring 2016” by Library Journal and has received favorable reviews in such publications as Publisher’s Weekly and Oxford American. Jess’s work has appeared in such noted literary journals as American Poetry Review and Ploughshares. Jess is an associate professor of English at the College of Staten Island and the poetry and fiction editor for the African American Review.

Camille Rankine published her first full-length collection of poetry, Incorrect Merciful Impulses (Copper Canyon Press), in January 2016. She is the author of the chapbook Slow Dance with Trip Wire (Poetry Society of America, 2011), which won the 2010 New York Chapbook Camille RankineFellowship, and she was a recipient of the 2010 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in such literary journals as American Poet, Boston Review, and Narrative. Rankine is a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s MFA for Poets and Writers and serves on the executive committee of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Danez Smith is the author of the chapbook hands on ya knees (Penmanship Books, 2013) and [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award as well as the Lambda Literary Award. He is a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective, a national spoken-word poetry group. Smith is widely considered one of the nation’s top poetry slam artists, having been a finalist for the Danez Smith2011 Individual World Poetry Slam and a two-time Rustbelt Individual Champion. His work has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Kinfolks, Poetry, and Ploughshares, amongst other notable publications.

The Center for African American Poetry and Poetics is a part of the Department of English in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.