NEW YORK – A Chicago-based writer and activist has received the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets. Kemi Alabi's “Against Heaven” is scheduled for publication in Spring 2022.
Alabi, chosen for the honor by the acclaimed poet Claudia Rankine, will receive $5,000 and a six-week, all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy. The academy will also purchase and distribute thousands of copies of “Against Heaven.”
Rankine said in a statement Thursday that “Against All Heaven” was a virtuosic and multi-layered exploration of “black queer subjectivity.”
“At once sonic and disruptive, these poems pull together everything in a world where nothing is sacred,” she said. "In this energetic and brilliant debut, the thrust of the lyric dislodges all that is stuck and stagnant, creating new possibilities for utterance.”
Alabi is cultural strategy director of Forward Together, which helps communities combat marginalization based “on race, sexuality, and gender." Previous winners of the First Book Award, established in 1975, include Nicole Cooley and Jenny Xie.