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  • Date: February 26
  • Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm PT

AWP Offsite Event: Cave Canem Fellows Reading


Joined by Washingtonian poets Colleen McElroy & Gloria Burgess, 20+ Cave Canem poets take the stage to raise funds for North America’s premier home for black poetry. The evening will be hosted by Robin Coste Lewis and conclude with a choral poem written and performed by Ashaki Jackson, Bettina Judd, Natasha Marin, Khadijah Queen & Anastacia-Renee. Cash bar celebration to follow. $10 admission to benefit Cave Canem.

photo by Darrel Holnes

Robin Coste Lewisis a Provost’s Fellow in the Creative Writing & Literature PhD Program at USC. A Cave Canem Fellow, she received her MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program where she was a Goldwater Fellow in poetry. She also holds a Master’s of Theological Studies degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard’s Divinity School. She was a finalist for the International War Poetry Prize, the National Rita Dove Prize, and semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/Boston Review Prize and the Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including The Massachusetts ReviewCallalooThe Harvard  Gay & Lesbian ReviewTransitionVIDA, amongst others.  She has taught at Wheaton College, Hunter College, Hampshire College and the NYU Low-Residency MFA in Paris.  Fellowships and awards include the Caldera Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Can Serrat International Art Centre in Barcelona, and the Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya.  Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.

Colleen J. McElroy is a Professor Emeritus of English and creative writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. In addition to serving as Editor-in-chief of the Seattle Review from 1995-2006, McElroy has published nine collections of poems, most recently, Sleeping with the Moon (2007), for which she received a 2008 PEN/Oakland National Literary Award. Her latest collections of creative non-fiction include: A Long Way from St. Louie (travel memoirs), and Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar, (finalist in the 2000 PEN USA Research-based Creative Nonfiction category). Among her numerous awards, she has received the Before Columbus American Book Award, she also has received two Fulbright Research Fellowships, two NEA Fellowships (in both fiction and poetry), a DuPont Visiting Scholar Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Fellowship. Her work has been translated into Russian, Italian, Arabic, Greek, French, German, Malay, and Serbo-Croatian.

Gloria Burgess’s poetry celebrates the spiritual and evocative oral traditions of her ancestry—African, Native American, and Celtic. A Cave Canem Poetry Fellow, her poetry has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and appears in diverse publications, including The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Gathering Ground, The Open Door, and Journey of the Rose. Faculty at Seattle University and Affiliate Faculty at the University of Washington, Gloria begins her latest book, Dare to Wear Your Soul on the Outside, with the touching story of her father’s life-changing relationship with Nobel Laureate author William Faulkner, weaving in threads of inspirational poetry, narrative, and reflections.



Indigo Moor is a multi-genre, award-winning writer and teacher. His second book of poetry, Through the Stonecutter’s Window, won the Northwestern University Press’s Cave Canem prize. His first book, Tap-Root, was published as part of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Select Poetry Series. His stageplay, Live! at the Excelsior, was a finalist for the Images Theatre Playwright Award. Indigo is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program—where he studied poetry, fiction, and scriptwriting—and a graduate member of the Artist’s Residency Institute for Teaching Artists. A musician and photographer, Indigo’s collaborations include the Artists Embassy International Dancing Poetry Festival, the Livermore Ekphrastic Project, and the Davis Jazz Arts Festival.

Lauren K. Alleyne is a native of Trinidad and Tobago. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Cornell University and is currently the Poet-in-Residence and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Dubuque. A Cave Canem graduate, her work has been awarded prizes such as a 2012 Lyric Iowa Poetry Prize (2nd place), the 2010 Small Axe Literary prize, two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes (2009, 2011), the 2003 Atlantic Monthly Student Poetry Prize, the Robert Chasen Graduate Poetry Prize at Cornell, among others. She has been published in several journals and anthologies, including Crab Orchard Review, The Cimarron Review, Black Arts Quarterly, The Caribbean Writer, The Belleview Literary ReviewGrowing Up Girl and Gathering Ground. Her chapbook, Dawn In The Kaatskills, was published in 2008 by Longshore Press, and her debut collection, Difficult Fruit, is forthcoming in Feb, 2014 from Peepal Tree Press.


Chiyuma Elliott is an Assistant Professor of English and African-American Studies at the University of Mississippi. A former Stegner Fellow, and an alumni fellow of Cave Canem, her poems have appeared in the African American Review, Callaloo, The Collagist, Dear Sir, MARGIE, the Notre Dame Review, the PN Review, and other journals.

Poetry in The Branches Coordinator and Information Technology Director for Poets House in New York City, Reginald Harris won the 2012 Cave Canem /Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize for Autogeography. A Pushcart Prize Nominee, recipient of Individual Artist Awards for both poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council, and Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year for 10 Tongues: Poems (2002), his work has appeared in numerous journals, anthologies, and other publications.

Born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia, Sean Hill has an MFA from the University of Houston. He has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, the Bush Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, the University of Wisconsin, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Jerome Foundation, and Stanford University where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry. Hill’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, The Oxford American, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and other literary journals, and in the anthologies Blues PoemsGathering GroundThe Ringing Ear, and Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.  His first book, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2008.  In 2009 Hill became an editor atBroadsided Press. His second collection of poetry is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in early 2014. He makes his home in Bemidji, Minnesota, but he has moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, to join the creative writing faculty at UA-Fairbanks as a visiting professor.

Ruth Ellen Kocher is the author of Ending in Plane (Noemi Press, 2014), Goodbye Lyric: The Gigans and Lovely Gun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014), domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press, 2013), One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press, 2003), When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2002), and Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press 1999). Her poems have been most recently anthologized in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets, Black Nature, and  From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great. She has been awarded fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Yaddo. She is Associate Chair of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Colorado.

Aaron Samuels, raised in Providence, Rhode Island by a Jewish mother and a Black father, is a Cave Canem Fellow and a nationally acclaimed performer. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, featured on TV One’s Verses & Flow, and has appeared in many journals including Tidal Basin Review and Muzzle Magazine. His debut collection of poetry, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps was released on Write Bloody Publishing in fall 2013.

Danez Smith is a Cave Canem Fellow, Pushcart Nominee, Survivor & Black Queer from St. Paul, MN. Danez was featured in The Academy of American Poets’ Emerging Poets Series by Patricia Smith and was a finalist for the 2013 Rattle Poetry Prize. Danez is the author of ‘hands on ya knees,’ a chapbook published by Penmanship Books. His full-length collection, [insert] Boy, will be published in 2014 by Yes Yes Books. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Ploughshares, Devil’s Lake, The Cortland Review, Anti-, and elsewhere. Danez twerks with the best, has no time for the rest.

Ladan Osman was born in Somalia. She earned a BA at Otterbein College and an MFA at the University of Texas at Austin’s Michener Center for Writers. Her poetry has been featured in former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s syndicated newspaper column, “American Life in Poetry.” Osman lives in Chicago.

Torrie Valentine is a poet who lives in Greensboro NC. She is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University and has been writing and traveling since she graduated in 2005. Torrie continues to write and read her work as an effort to inspire hope and social change in her community and afar.

Toni Asante Lightfoot is a poet, teacher, performer, and activist. Born and raised in Washington, DC, she started hosting poetry readings in 1993 at Soul Brothers Pizza and moved to It’s Your Mug in early 1994, where it hosted Saul Williams, Willie Perdomo, Miguel Algarin, The Darkroom Collective from Boston, Rhoma Spencer of Trinidad & Tobago and some of the best poets in DC. She is living in exile in Chicago, Illinois. She first left DC in 2000 to be artistic director of The Haven, an artistic retreat and bed & breakfast in Trinidad & Tobago. From there she joined the Blackout Arts Collective of Boston and became their artistic director in 2002. After realizing Boston was not her cup of tea, she packed up a truck and headed west to the Third Coast. Chicago has been a home sometimes cold, sometimes hot, but full of opportunism. Lightfoot is now the Director of TEACH Program at Young Chicago Authors. Her life is filled with a new understanding of language since being married to Setondji from The Republic of Benin and becoming a mother to the lovely Leontyn.

Alyss Dixson received a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale and attended Columbia University School of the Arts for an MFA in Film. She ran Rat Entertainment for five years as principal executive and producer working on Rush Hour I&II (New Line Cinema), Family Man (Universal), Paid in Full (Dimension/Miramax) and as an Associate Producer on Double Take (Disney). Later, she joined Paramount Pictures as a Vice President of Production, Worldwide. Now a writer-producer, she also consults for film and television. Mollie Gregory featured Ms. Dixson in her book Women Who Run the Show (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). She is hard at work on her forthcoming debut novel: A Place Called Paradise and a collection of poems, Fukuoka Woman.

Charif Shanahan is the Programs Director for the Poetry Society of America. A Cave Canem fellow and a graduate of Princeton University and Dartmouth College, Charif earned his M.F.A. in poetry at New York University, where he served as a Starlight Foundation Fellow. A recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, his poems and translations have appeared online and in print. He also serves as the poetry editor for Psychology Tomorrow Magazine.

John Warner Smith’s poems have appeared in PloughsharesCallalooThe Worcester ReviewBloodrootPembroke, Pluck!, Fourteen Hills, American Athenaeum, Quiddity and other literary journals. His book-length manuscript was a finalist in the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition, and his short collection, “Hunting Dragonflies,” was a finalist in the 2012 Poetry Contest of the Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival. John resides in Baton Rouge, where he teaches English Composition and Creative Writing at Southern University.  A Cave Canem Fellow, he earned his MFA at the University of New Orleans.

Nicole Higgins’s poems have appeared in Natural BridgePassages NorthToe Good and elsewhere. A Cave Canem and Callaloo fellow, she teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and serves as Poetry Editor of Hyphenate.

Maya Washington is an arts educator, actor, writer and filmmaker and Creative Director of White Space Poetry Project and the Writer/Director of the White Space short film.  She holds an MFA in Writing from Hamline University, and a BA in Theatre from The University of Southern California. Her work is featured in The Playwrights’ Center Monologues for Women (Heinemann Drama, 2005). Her one-act, Colorful Women of Invention, was produced at Youth Performance Company in 2003. Her poem “January First” is featured in the Family Housing Fund’s Home Sweet Home Again touring exhibition. Her full-length play South of Adams, West of Figueroa was selected as a participant in Congo Square Theatre’s August Wilson Playwriting Initiative in 2008. A proud Cave Canem Fellow, her work has also appeared in Gulf Coast, Talking Stick, Angel Face and Rock Paper Scissors.  Maya is a member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA and has appeared in print advertisements, commercials, television, film and theater throughout the United States. Her creative experience and zest for life have additionally yielded a successful career as a motivational speaker and creative workshop facilitator.

Ciara Darnise Miller was born and raised on the West Side of Chicago. After becoming a  Louder than a Bomb poetry slam champion, she performed at various high schools and colleges throughout the United States, including: Lane Tech, North Side Prep, Berkeley High, Chicago Academy of the Arts, MaryMount Manhattan College, Milliken University, and Sarah Lawrence College. She has also been a featured performer at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Her work is published in numerous Young Chicago Authors anthologies, and it has appeared in StarWall PaperWhat I Know Is Me—Black Girls Write about Their WorldThe SLC ReviewDark Phrases, as well as her self-published  chapbook Black Dorothy.  She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, a lyricist, playwright, and the Graduate Fellowship recipient at Indiana University where she is a poetry MFA and African American/African Diaspora MA candidate. She approaches writing by taking influences from any speck of truth she can find.

Destiny Birdsong currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned an M.F.A. in poetry and is now a Ph.D. student in English at Vanderbilt University. Her poems have appeared in Southern Women’s ReviewTorch: Poetry, Prose and Short Stories by African American WomenGeorgetown Review, and Tabula Rasa: A Journal of Medical Humanities.

Caroline Randall Williams is an award-winning published poet, currently pursuing her MFA at the University of Mississippi. Prior to matriculating at Ole Miss the 2010 Harvard graduate spent one year as a 1st grade teacher and another teaching 9th grade English. Williams is a third generation children’s book writer. She is the great-granddaughter of Arna Bontemps who wrote several critically praised children’s books including Popo and Fifina and The Fast Sooner Hound.  Like her great-grandfather who co-wrote (often with Langston Hughes), Williams enjoys collaboration. Her debut novel, The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess, is co-written with her mother. Williams first attended the southern festival of book as a three-year old. Interviewed by a reporter, she was quoted in the Tennessean as saying that she “likes to write”. Twenty-two years later she’s back to see what a new generation of young Southern Festival of Books readers makes of what she has written.

Sean DesVignes is an Afro-Caribbean writer from Brooklyn, NY. A poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly, he is the author of the upcoming chapbook, “Take My Eyes To The Dry Cleaners.” His literary honors include fellowships & scholarships from Cave Canem, Callaloo & the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference. He is a member of the Divine Fabrics Collective.

Group Poem Readers:

Bettina Judd’s research interests are in Black feminist theory, Black women’s art, and feeling as knowledge production. Her dissertation titled, Feelin’ Feminism: Black Women’s Art, Affect and Feminist Thought explores Black women’s feminist and womanist knowledge production through their creative production. A poet, Ms. Judd is a Cave Canem fellow and has published poems in literary journals such as Mythium and Torch.

Natasha Marin is a community arts organizer. She believes that art is not only made, but also happens naturally– that art can go beyond its own reality into a more profound way of being and seeing the world that can change a person’s life. Working in collaboration with others to create transformative environments for art-making is her passion. She works at 45WEST STUDIOS in downtown Vancouver and lives with her partner, Kelly and their daughter, Roman, in Seattle.



Khadijah Queen is the author of two poetry collections: Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic 2008), and Black Peculiar, which won the 2010 Noemi Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the Gatewood Prize at Switchback Books.

Ashaki M. Jackson is a social psychologist and poet residing in Southern California. She is a Cave Canem fellow and former member of Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) and Idyllwild Summer Arts writing communities. In addition to the enclosed publications, various organizations have featured her readings, including Write Word Write Now’s Summer Solstice Reading Series (Detroit, MI), LouderArts at Bar13 (New York, NY), Courting Risk (multiple locations), and Rhapsodomancy (Los Angeles, CA), among others. She is currently mentoring and conducting research for initiatives involving teen girls.

Anastacia-Renee is a writer, Cave Canem Fellow, Hedgebrook Alumna, VONA Alum and Artist Trust EDGE Program Graduate. She is the recipient of the 2004 San Diego Journalism Press Club Award for the article “War Torn.” She is writer, co-director, and co-producer of GOTBREAST? (2007), a documentary about the views of women regarding breast and body image. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have been published widely.