Greetings! I don't typically blog with direct requests, not even to promote my own books, but today I am making an exception. I'd like everyone who cares enough about my poetry to read this blog to be aware of an amazing organization, without which my journey as a poet would have been very different, and to join me in supporting it.
Cave Canem -- Latin for "beware of the dog"! -- is a "home for black poetry" founded by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady in 1996. Based on their own experiences and the many stories related to them by other African American poets, they felt there to be a deep need for a space where black poets could gather, network, workshop, and support one another. Too many poets, beginning, emerging, and established, were facing alone the difficulties of learning to write, gaining publication, and finding an audience as "minority" writers in the poetry "mainstream." The discouragements -- intended and unintentional -- were many, and the resources for dealing with them were few or scattered or unknown to many of the poets who needed them most. Cave Canem came into being to make African American poets at all stages of their careers visible to one another and to facilitate the sharing of information and support that makes community so valuable. Personally, as a poet who does not have an MFA, I have learned so much about poetry and poetics from the workshops and ongoing conversations with Cave Canem poets -- online and in "real life." The community has given me access to ideas and information that I would have otherwise found it difficult to track down on my own. I would not be the poet I am today without this generosity and its ripple effects through the world of American poetry.
Indeed, nearly fifteen years later, Cave Canem's work has been so well done that the contributions of African American poets to the tradition of American poetry are more widely recognized and highly valued than ever before. Cave Canem fellows -- poets who have participated in the annual writing retreat where the community is (re)formed and rejuvenated for a week each summer -- have gone on to publish beautiful and brilliant books of poetry, including folks like Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Greg Pardlo, Aracelis Girmay, Dawn Lundy Martin, and John Murillo (to name too few). Other terrific books have come out of the Cave Canem Prize series, by poets like Natasha Trethewey, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Major Jackson, and Ronaldo Wilson, some of whom are also fellows, but not all -- the prize is open to all African American poets who have not yet published a book. The Cave Canem faculty over the years has included such aesthetically diverse and amazing poets as Lucille Clifton, Carl Phillips, Ed Roberson, Sonia Sanchez, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and Claudia Rankine (and many more). I almost hate to name examples, because for everyone I name, I could add 3 more poets whose work would excite and delight you, but I do so to give you a sense for the wide reach of Cave Canem's efforts and the rich body of poetry it has helped in various ways to nurture and disseminate.
If the poems of one of these poets has spoken to you, if you feel your own reading or writing life is richer because of the increasing diversity of American poetry, if you have learned something about the world and the people in it via the African American poetry of the last decade or so, chances are that Cave Canem played some role in making that difference in your experience. There are other people, organizations, gatherings, and communities, of course, that have contributed importantly (and do still) to the tapestry of African American poetry -- I don't want to imply that Cave Canem could do its work alone or that it is culturally and historically unique. But it is special, to me and to many others.
Cave Canem fellows like myself are seeking to raise $50,000 for the organization by the end of the month, to sustain Cave Canem's good work. Please consider giving $10 (or $25! or more!) to help us meet our goal. I'm happy to note that Cave Canem's campaign is one of the causes that the Red Room supports. Join us!