Claremont Graduate University Selects Patricia Smith’s, "Incendiary Art" for $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award

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Patricia Smith’s "Incendiary Art" and Donika Kelly’s "Bestiary" named 2018 Tufts Poetry Award winners.

Claremont Graduate University is proud to announce the selection of Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly/Northwestern University Press) as the recipient of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

A poet whose collection explores tragedy and grief in black communities across America, Smith will receive the $100,000 award during a special ceremony and reading held April 19 at the Huntington Library in San Marino.

In addition, Donika Kelly’s Bestiary (Graywolf Press) has been chosen for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, which recognizes a first volume by a poet of promise with an award of $10,000.

The winners were announced at a special reception held February 17. Smith and Kelly were both notified of their selection by conference calls.

“This is one of the best moments of my entire life,” said an overwhelmed Smith, who joins a company of past recipients that includes Thomas Lux, Angie Estes, Linda Gregerson, and Henri Cole.

The Kingsley Tufts Award is one of the largest annual monetary prizes given to a single book of poetry by a mid-career poet.

The award was established at CGU in 1993 by Kate Tufts to honor the memory of her husband, Kingsley, an executive in Los Angeles-area shipyards who also wrote and published poetry. In addition to $100,000, the award includes a weeklong residency at CGU in the fall, during which the winner meets with students, conducts workshops, and gives public readings.

A year after establishing the award in her husband’s memory, Kate Tufts established the Discovery award to celebrate and support the work of a promising new poet. Past Kate Tufts Discovery Award winners include Yona Harvey, Charles Harper Webb, and Lucia Perillo.

Smith and Kelly’s books were chosen from a pool of some 470 titles submitted for consideration.

In addition to Smith’s Incendiary Art, this year’s finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award were Kathy Fagan’s Sycamore (Milkweed), Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons (FSG), Paisley Rekdal’s Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press), and Monica Youn’s Blackacre (Graywolf Press).

In addition to Kelly’s Bestiary, this year’s finalists for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award were Ari Banias’ Anybody (W.W. Norton), Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas (Graywolf Press), Tommy Pico’s IRL (Birds, LLC), and Mai Der Vang’s Afterland (Graywolf Press).

“Kate would have been so pleased to see another impressive group of finalists in both categories this year,” said Professor Lori Anne Ferrell, director of the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, “and I think she would have been thrilled to see the awards going to Smith and Kelly, whose works engage with and challenge the world in such powerful, poignant, and unexpected ways.”

The author of eight books of poetry, 2018 Kingsley Tufts Award winner Patricia Smith has been hailed by critics as one of the most “magnetic and esteemed poets in today’s literary landscape.”

Smith has explored issues of race and identity in other literary genres as well, including drama (her one-woman show Life After Motown was produced by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott and performed at the Trinidad Theater Workshop) and opera (she is now writing a libretto for the Lyric Opera of Chicago).

Smith is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, National Endowment of the Arts grants, and many other awards. She is a professor at the College of Staten Island and an instructor in several writing programs, including the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, Cave Canem, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Writing Program.

Recipient of the 2018 NAACP Image Award, Smith’s Incendiary Art chronicles the violence committed against black male bodies in the past and present—such as the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, which Smith revisits here—and the collective cry of grief from mothers in the black community.

2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award winner Donika Kelly is an assistant professor at St. Bonaventure University in western New York, where she teaches creative writing.

Bestiary, which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2017, presents readers with a rich catalogue of legendary beasts and fantastic creatures that express familiar human struggles with identity, love, fear, and understanding even as they look back to the mythical past.

Kelly is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow and recipient of a fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center. She received her MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers and a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University.

The selection of Smith and Kelly was made by a judging committee consisting of Don Share, committee chair, poet, and editor of Poetry magazine; Elena Karina Byrne, poet, poetry curator/moderator for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books; 2000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award recipient Terrance Hayes, who is a poet and professor at the University of Pittsburgh; Sandy Solomon, poet and teacher at Vanderbilt University; and poet and playwright Khadijah Queen.

During the conference calls, Judging Committee Chair Share told both winners that everyone is excited to have them visit Southern California in April for the awards ceremony and reading.

Smith—who was traveling in Ireland when she received the call at 3 am—replied to Share’s remark with the promise, “I’m on my way!”

To which Share returned, “You certainly are on your way.”

For more information about the 2018 Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Award winners, finalists, and events that are open to the public this spring, visit

Media inquiries: nick.owchar(at)cgu(dot)edu

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