Cave Canem is a home for the many voices of African American poetry and is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.


Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady founded Cave Canem in 1996 with the intuition that African American poets would benefit from having a place of their own in the literary landscape. Over the past 16 years, that intuition has become a conviction. In Cave Canem, emerging poets find sustenance, a safe space to take artistic chances. The organization's community has grown from a gathering of 26 poets to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty and high-achieving national fellowship of 344. In addition to an annual writing retreat at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, programs include two book prizes with prestigious presses; workshops in New York City and Pittsburgh; Legacy Conversations with such poets and scholars as Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Arnold Rampersad and Derek Walcott; a Poets on Craft series; nationally based readings and panels; and the publication of three anthologies, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006), The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (University of Georgia Press, 2007) and Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009 (Willow Books, 2011).

Cave Canem is a 501(c)(3) organization with administrative headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. In 2009, its public programs served a direct audience of 4,400-plus and showcased the work of over 296 poets; its publications reach a national readership. With capacity building grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Booth Ferris Foundation, The Ford Foundation, Lannan Foundation, New York Community Trust and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the organization's budget has grown from $20,000 in 1996 to $400,000 in 2012.

Selected Milestones

Awards garnered by fellows include, among many others, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, the Whiting Writers' Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the National Poetry Series Selection, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Ruth Lilly Fellowship. Fellows have 170+ books in print and have gained significant footholds in academic positions around the country. Faculty member Elizabeth Alexander was named Inaugural Poet for President Obama in 2008; faculty members Terrance Hayes and Nikky Finney won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2010 and 2011, respectively; 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner Tracy K. Smith received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and faculty member Natasha Trethewey, inaugural winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 1999, was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012.

"Beware Of The Dog"

"Derricotte and Eady wanted to bring black poets of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds together under a planned and organized umbrella. They were clear that black poets needed to lay eye and ear on each other. What these brilliant, passionate poet-teachers pushed out, via Pompeii, was a new planet but what they also touched was an heirloom."

—Nikky Finney

When Toi Derricotte shared with Cornelius Eady and his wife Sarah Micklem her dream of creating a retreat for African American poets, the three agreed to work together to make it a reality. While vacationing in Pompeii, they found a fitting symbol for the safe space they planned to create—the mosaic of a dog guarding the entry to the House of the Tragic Poet, with the inscription, "Cave Canem" (Beware of the Dog). In designing the logo for their new enterprise, Sarah introduced a telling visual metaphor by breaking the dog's chain. Since inception, Cave Canem's name and logo have stood for the culture-shaping role that the organization has played: a protection for poets and a catalyst for unleashing vital, new voices into the literary world.


1996: First retreat held at Mount St. Alphonsus Conference Center, Esopus, New York. Founders: Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. Guest poets: Elizabeth Alexander and Afaa Michael Weaver. Volunteer staff: Michele Elliot, Terrance Hayes and Sarah Micklem.

1997: Cave Canem incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

1999: Regional workshops conducted in four cities. Cave Canem Poetry Prize established. Carolyn Micklem hired as Director.

2001: Legacy Conversation series launched.

2004: Administrative headquarters established in New York City.

2006: Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade published with University of Michigan Press. 10th Anniversary Celebration held in New York City. Alison Meyers hired as Executive Director (as of September 1).

2007: The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South published with The University of Georgia Press; national book tour conducted.

2008: University of Pittsburgh commits five-year funding in support of annual writing retreat at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. Poets on Craft series inaugurated.

2009: Cave Canem/Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize launched. Cave Canem moves administrative headquarters and establishes programming space in Brooklyn, NY.

2010: Cave Canem South, a three-day workshop co-sponsored with the South Carolina Poetry Initiative, held in Columbia, South Carolina; Kwame Dawes, director; Nikky Finney, Patricia Smith and Frank X Walker, instructors. Cave Canem a Literary Sponsor at the 2010 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair; Brooklyn (NY) Book Festival Program Partner.

2011: Cave Canem partners with Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press (Detroit), to publish biennial Cave Canem anthologies. Receives grant award from The Pittsburgh Foundation to conduct community-based workshops in Pittsburgh.


To join Cave Canemís fellowship, one must attend the organizationís week-long writing retreat, offered tuition-free to 54 emerging African American poets. Annually, approximately 30 fellows return for their second and third times; approximately 24 are first-time participants. Please visit the Retreat page for application guidelines and program FAQs.

Publicity Boiler Plate

Founded in 1996 by poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in MFA programs and writing workshops, Cave Canem is a home for the many voices of African American poetry and is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. Called "the major watering hole and air pocket for black poetry" by poet Nikky Finney, Cave Canem has grown from an initial gathering of 26 poets to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty and a high-achieving national fellowship of over 300. Its programs include an annual week-long retreat, first and second book prizes with prestigious presses, Legacy Conversations with pre-eminent black poets and scholars, Poets on Craft talks, writing workshops, publications and national readings. Such world-class poets as Elizabeth Alexander and Yusef Komunyakaa number among the organizationís faculty and judges. To date, the organization has published Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canemís First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006) and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (The University of Georgia Press, 2007). For more information, visit cavecanempoets.org.