Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady have been named recipients of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.
The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.
Derricotte and Eady become the eighth and ninth winners of the award. This is the first time the award has been presented to two people in one year. Each will be presented with a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000 during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public.
Derricotte and Eady co-founded Cave Canem in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape. What started as a gathering of 26 poets is now an influential movement with a renowned faculty, high-achieving national fellowship of over 400 and a workshop community of 900.
Speaking about the award, Derricotte said she knows and admires Paul Engle’s poetry and his work in the world of literature.
“Receiving this award—considering that when Cornelius and I started Cave Canem all we wanted to do was to create a safe space for black poets—makes me think about (and question) many things, especially, how our writing connects us and leads to changes in the world. Cave Canem seems to be something that just wanted to happen, something that, while it needed quite a bit of heavy lifting, attracted just the right people to keep picking it up. Thank you so much for recognizing Cornelius and me for our parts.”
Derricotte is a poet and memoirist who is a professor emerita of writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of six volumes of poetry. She won a 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. More than 1,000 of her poems have been published in magazines and journals Her latest book is I: New and Selected Poems.
Eady is the author of eight books of poetry. His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985; in 2001, Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has taught at Notre Dame University and the University of Missouri. He is currently at SUNY Stony Brook Southhampton.
The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which is home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
The Engle Prize itself is a one-of-a-kind work of art created by M.C. Ginsberg in Iowa City. The piece is crafted to reflect the work and impact of the recipient, while tying it to the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.
Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 - March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the Writers’ Workshop and founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic. In addition to recognizing a writer, like Engle, makes an impact on his or her community and the world at large through efforts beyond the page, the award is designed to raise awareness about Engle and his works.
Previous winners of the prize are:
● James Alan McPherson, a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room
● Kwame Dawes, a professor at Nebraska University, editor of the journalPrairie Schooner, and author of the recent poetry collection, Duppy Conqueror
● Luis Alberto Urrea, a multi-genre author whose works include the novelInto the Beautiful North, the non-fiction work, The Devil’s Highway, and the recent poetry collection, The Tijuana Book of the Dead.
● Sara Paretsky, author of the bestselling V.I. Warshawski mystery series. She also created Sisters in Crime, a group that has evolved into a worldwide organization that supports women crime writers, and is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America.
● Roxane Gay, a writer, professor, editor and commentator. She is the author of the short story collection Ayiti, the novel An Untamed State, and the essay collection Bad Feminist. Her new memoir, Hunger. She has won numerous awards for her writing.
● Alexander Chee, a writer, teacher and activist. He is the author of the novels Edinburgh and Queen of the Night, as well as the memoir How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Chee is renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues.
● Dina Nayeri, a novelist, essayist and activist who has written extensively about the life and challenges of refugees. She has published two novels, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, and Refuge. Her latest book, The Ungrateful Refugee, was released in 2019.