Pitt Supports Cave Canem’s Annual Poetry Retreat

Issue Date: 
May 27, 2008

Arts and Sciences announces $200,000 multiyear funding for Cave Canem

toi-derricottvig.jpgPitt’s School of Arts and Sciences has awarded $200,000 to support Cave Canem Foundation’s retreat for African American poets at Pitt-Greensburg from 2008 through 2012. The multiyear funding follows an initial $40,000 gift made to Cave Canem in 2007 and ensures the retreat for another five years on the Greensburg campus, which has been the host site for the program since 2003. This year’s retreat is planned for June 22-29.

“The annual Cave Canem retreat provides a critical conversation space for Black poets, and I am delighted that the connections between Cave Canem and the University have been symbolized by location of the retreat at our Greensburg campus for the last five years,” said N. John Cooper, Betty J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of Arts and Sciences, in awarding the funds.

For several years, the University and Cave Canem, North America’s premier home for Black poetry, have been connecting Black poets with Pitt’s writing department. Poet and Pitt professor of English Toi Derricotte (at left) cofounded Cave Canem with Cornelius Eady, and Pitt assistant professor of poetry and writing Dawn Lundy Martin was the winner of the 2006 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Since 1999, the University of Pittsburgh Press has published the winning manuscript of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize every third year. Forthcoming from Pitt Press is Ronaldo V. Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, selected by Claudia Rankine for the 2007 prize.

The Cave Canem retreat annually serves 54 fellows—African American poets from diverse backgrounds, ages, and geographies—who come together with a world-class faculty for a week of writing, presentations, and debate.

For 2008, the retreat’s faculty are Derricotte, Eady, Colleen J. McElroy, Carl Phillips, Rankine, and Reginald Shepherd. Ntozake Shange is guest poet. Since the organization’s inception in 1996, 250 fellowships have been awarded.

Derricotte and Eady founded Cave Canem to remedy the underrepresentation of African American poets in MFA programs and at writing workshops. The group is committed to cultivating poets’ artistic and professional development.

With six robust programs—a weeklong annual retreat, a first book prize, a Legacy Conversation series, regional writing workshops, anthology publication with prestigious presses, and nationally based readings—Cave Canem has been providing necessary sustenance for African American poets for 12 years. Its programs have influenced the literary landscape and serve as models and inspiration for emerging minority organizations in the United States and abroad.

The Cave Canem community has grown from an initial gathering of 27 poets to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty and a high-achieving fellowship of 250 poets residing in 34 states.


The foundation’s emblem, taken from a mosaic of a dog guarding the entry to the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, symbolizes Cave Canem’s role—protecting African American poets and, by breaking the chain, unleashing vital new voices on the literary world.