Prize Winning Books

Cave Canem Poetry Prize Winners
Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize Winners




Rickey Laurentiis
Boy with Thorn
Selected by Terrance Hayes
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015

“Whether in praise songs, appraisals or meditations, the poems of Boy with Thorn embody an ardent grace. Their accomplished structures house a fearless sensitivity. Rickey Laurentiis fills history with his ‘crucial blood,’ his ‘stubbornness,’ his ‘American tongue’; and history, in return, fills him with crucial muses (from Auden to Hayden), stubborn ghosts (such as Emmett Till), and manifold expressions of culture (southern, sexual, spiritual). The result is an extraordinary, and ultimately, irreducible debut. To paraphrase something Einstein once said, the true magic of this book can only be found inside this book.”

—Terrance Hayes

2014 Honorable Mention: Raina Fields for Last Rites for Uptown.


F. Douglas Brown
Zero to Three
Selected by Tracy K. Smith
University of Georgia Press, $17.95

"These poems lead us from the birth cry in a hospital delivery room, to dusk and revelry in Spain, to modern-day Florida and history-laden Mississippi where Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till were slain. Even when what Brown has set out to do is grieve loss, his lines move with a buoyant, marrow-deep music, percussive and rich. They move like 'a train, bound to a destination' and they arrive with 'the crackle lightning makes when it hits.' "

—Tracy K. Smith


Dexter Booth
Scratching the Ghost
Selected by Major Jackson
Graywolf Press, $15

“These are poems loyal to their own intrepid logic and reckless plausibility. Yet, lest the reader get too giddy in a fun house of mirrors, here, too, are the melodic laments and remarkable lyric passages of a man who acknowledges the infinite current of melancholy that underlines his journey.”

—Major Jackson


Nicole Terez Dutton
If One of Us Should Fall
Selected by Patricia Smith
University of Pittsburgh Press, $15.95

“Nicole Terez Dutton's fierce and formidable debut throbs with restless beauty and a lyrical undercurrent that is both empowered and unpredictable. Every poem is unsettling in that delicious way that changes and challenges the reader. There is nothing here that does not hurtle forward.”

—Patricia Smith


Iain Haley Pollock
Spit Back a Boy
Selected by Elizabeth Alexander
The University of Georgia Press, $16.95

“Beyond the bracing intelligence in these poems, beyond the surges of joy and trouble, beyond the poet's awe in this split second, he plunges with imagination into the timeless work of loving witness, resonant with high style and the blues. Wherever Iain Pollock turns, the search is on, in history, art, family, in things on display and hidden in himself.”

—Cornelius Eady


Gary Jackson
Missing You, Metropolis
Selected by Yusef Komunyakaa
Graywolf Press, $15

"Gary Jackson's Missing You, Metropolis embodies and underscores a voice uniquely shaped and tuned for the 21st century. Playful, jaunty and highly serious... the collection is gauged by a sophisticated heart. Pathos breathes within and slightly underneath the visual comedy, and this quality is the true genius of Missing You, Metropolis."

—Yusef Komunyakaa


Ronaldo V. Wilson
Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man
Selected by Claudia Rankine
University of Pittsburgh Press, $14