One Story is thrilled to announce our 2015 Mentors of the Year: Co-Founders of Cave Canem Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady.
At One Story, we strongly believe that being a part of the literary community should include helping others. In that vein, each year at our Literary Debutante Ball we honor established authors who have given extraordinary support to their fellow writers. Past honorees have included Ann Patchett, Dani Shapiro, Dan Chaon and Colum McCann.
Mentoring is the kind of work that happens behind the scenes, but is vital to keep the literary world alive and kicking. It comes in all forms—from teaching, to blurbs, to recommendation letters, to late-night reads, one-on-one conferences, career guidance, inspiration, and community building. Behind each book on the shelf are unseen mentors, giving an author the help they need to make their work better, to keep writing when they are ready to quit, and eventually that final push over the publishing wall, ensuring that new voices are heard.
Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady embody this commitment to mentoring. Together they founded Cave Canem in 1996 with the intuition that African American poets would benefit from having a place of their own in the literary landscape. Over the past 16 years, that intuition has become a conviction. In Cave Canem, emerging poets find sustenance, and a safe space to take artistic chances. The organization’s community has grown from a gathering of 26 poets to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty and high-achieving national fellowship of 344. In addition to an annual writing retreat at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, programs include two book prizes with prestigious presses; workshops in New York City and Pittsburgh; Legacy Conversations with such poets and scholars as Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Arnold Rampersad and Derek Walcott; a Poets on Craft series; nationally based readings and panels; and the publication of three anthologies: Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, and Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009.
When Toi Derricotte shared with Cornelius Eady and his wife Sarah Micklem her dream of creating a retreat for African American poets, the three agreed to work together to make it a reality. While vacationing in Pompeii, they found a fitting symbol for the safe space they planned to create—the mosaic of a dog guarding the entry to the House of the Tragic Poet, with the inscription, “Cave Canem” (Beware of the Dog). In designing the logo for their new enterprise, Sarah introduced a telling visual metaphor by breaking the dog’s chain. Since inception, Cave Canem’s name and logo have stood for the culture-shaping role that the organization has played: a protection for poets and a catalyst for unleashing vital, new voices into the literary world.
We look forward to raising a glass to honor these two extraordinary writers & teachers, who have given so much support to the literary community on May 15th, 2015 in Brooklyn at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball.
Toi Derricotte has published five collections of poetry, most recently, The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). An earlier collection of poems, Tender, won the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks, published by W.W. Norton, won the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her essay “Beds” is included in The Best American Essays 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat. Recognized as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania in 2009, her honors include the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement; the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry for a poet whose distinguished and growing body of work represents a notable presence in American literature; the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America; two Pushcart Prizes; the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists; the Alumni/Alumnae Award from New York University; the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, Inc.; the Elizabeth Kray Award for service to the field of poetry from Poets House; and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Maryland State Arts Council. She serves on the Academy of American Poets’ Board of Chancellors and for many years was Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1996, she co-founded Cave Canem with Cornelius Eady.
Cornelius Eady was born in 1954 in Rochester, New York. He is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Hardheaded Weather (Penguin, 2008). His Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Ommation Press, 1986), won the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He has collaborated with jazz composer Diedre Murray in the production of several works of musical theater, including You Don’t Miss Your Water; Running Man, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999; Fangs, and Brutal Imagination, which received Newsday’s Oppenheimer Award in 2002. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry; a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Traveling Scholarship; a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy; The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (1994); and the Elizabeth Kray Award for service to the field of poetry from Poets House. With Toi Derricotte, he is co-founder of Cave Canem. He is Professor of English and the Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia