In connection with Black Poetry: A Conference, Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts/Program in Creative Writing, Bain-Swiggett Fund/Department of English, Humanities Council, Department of African American Studies, University Center for Human Values, Department of Comparative Literature, Program in Canadian Studies, Program in American Studies, and Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities present a gala reading featuring:

Elizabeth Alexander
Kwame Dawes
Toi Derricotte
Rita Dove
Yusef Komunyakaa
Haki R. Madhubuti
Harryette Mullen
Sonia Sanchez
Kevin Young

Free and open to the public; no advance tickets required.

“Black Poetry: A Conference is a truly historic international and inter-generational gathering. Over the span of 3 days, more than 40  black poets will come together to read from their work and consider the most urgent social, political and artistic questions of our time.  This is a boon for scholars, artists, and book-lovers in Princeton and beyond.”

– Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate and Director of Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing

For additional information, please write to


The Matthews Theatre is located at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton.

Click here for general directions to the University, maps, and other campus visitor information.




Free bus transportation is available from Trenton and Philadelphia. For information, please write to



Guests are invited to park for free in University Lot 20. To reach this lot from Alexander St., turn onto Faculty Road to the circle, go three-quarters around circle onto Elm Dr. and continue to next circle. Go three-quarters around this circle onto South Dr. At stop sign make left turn to Visitor Parking, Lot 20is the last large lot. From Washington Road, turn onto Faculty Road (toward Alexander St.) to first circle and follow directions above.

Metered parking is also available in the NJ Transit Princeton Station parking lot off Alexander St., on Alexander St., and on University Place.



Guests are invited to park for free in the West Garage. To reach the garage from Alexander St., turn onto Faculty Road to the circle, go three-quarters around circle onto Elm Dr. and continue to next circle. Go three-quarters around this circle bearing left. At stop sign make right turn into the West Garage. From Washington Road, turn onto Faculty Road (toward Alexander St.) to first circle and follow directions above.

Metered parking is also available in the NJ Transit Princeton Station parking lot off Alexander St., on Alexander St. and on University Place.



The McCarter Theatre Center is a short walk from the NJ Transit Princeton Station, the metered transit parking lot, and the West Garage. The Garage is open and free to the public evenings and weekends with accessible spaces on each level, served by an elevator. Parking is also available at meters on University Place and Alexander Street, including disability-designated spaces available on a first-come, first-served basis for vehicles with handicapped placards and/or license plates. For performances in the Matthews Theatre, patrons may also speak with the attendant in the circle driveway.




McCarter Theatre Center is an accessible venue. Wheelchair seating is available in the Matthews Theatre. Companion seats are also available.




Spoken dialogue scrolls across a digital screen as the action occurs.




The Matthews Theatre offers wireless radio frequency hearing assistance receivers. Headphones are provided free of charge but guests are welcome to bring their own. Hearing aids equipped with t-coil technology can be synched for better sound quality.



A team of certified ASL interpreters will provide a sign language-interpretation of the reading.



Guests in need of additional access accommodations should contact the Lewis Center for the Arts at least two weeks before the event at


For guests attending the conference, rooms are available at a discounted rate. To inquire, email



Photo by Djeneba Aduayom

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER — poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and cultural activist — is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in higher education. Dr. Alexander has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for 15 years and chaired the African American Studies Department. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, serves on the Pulitzer Prize Board, and co-designed the Art for Justice Fund. Notably, Alexander composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, and is author or co-author of fourteen books. Her book of poems, American Sublime, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2006, and her memoir, The Light of the World, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 2015.





Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

KWAME DAWES has authored 35 books of poetry, fiction, criticism, and essays, including, most recently, Bivouac (Akashic Books, 2019) and City of Bones: A Testament (Northwestern, 2017). Speak from Here to There (Peepal Tree Press), co-written with Australian poet John Kinsella, appeared in 2016. He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. He is also a faculty member in the Pacific MFA Program. He is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. Dawes is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.





Photo by Brian Palmer

TOI DERRICOTTE’s most recent book is The Undertaker’s Daughter. She has received the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcarts, the Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. With Cornelius Eady, she co-founded Cave Canem in 1996. She is Professor Emerita from University of Pittsburgh and served on the Academy of American Poets’ Board of Chancellors.






Photo courtesy Rita Dove

RITA DOVE, recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Thomas and Beulah, was U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995. Author of numerous books, most recently Sonata Mulattica and Collected Poems 1974-2004, she also edited The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Her drama The Darker Face of the Earth premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1996 and was produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the Royal National Theatre in London, among other venues. In 1998 the Boston Symphony debuted her song cycle “Seven for Luck,” with music by John Williams, under the composer’s baton. Her many honors include the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Obama, the 1996 National Humanities Medal from President Clinton, and 28 honorary doctorates. Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia; currently she also serves as The New York Times Magazine‘s poetry editor.





Photo by Crampton

YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA is Global Professor and Distinguished Senior Poet at New York University. He also served as New York’s 11th State Poet Laureate. His books of poetry include Dien Cai Dau (1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize; Thieves of Paradise (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1993), for which he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and his most recent collections are Warhorses, The Chameleon Couch (a finalist for the National Book Award), and The Emperor of Water Clocks. He is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. His other honors include the William Faulkner Prize (Université Rennes, France), the Hanes Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.




Photo courtesy Haki Madhubuti

HAKI R. MADHUBUTI is an award-winning poet, one of the architects of the Black Arts Movement, an essayist, educator, founder and publisher of Third World Press and Third World Press Foundation. He is the author of over thirty books of poetry and nonfiction including YellowBlack: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life; Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1967-2009; Honoring Genius, Gwendolyn Brooks: The Narrative of Craft, Art, Kindness and Justice; the best-selling Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? The African American Family in Transition and Taking Bullets: Terrorism and Black Life in Twenty-First Century America. A long-time community activist and institution builder, Madhubuti is a co-founder of the Institute of Positive Education and the co-founder of three schools in Chicago. He retired in 2011 after a distinguished teaching career of 42 years that included Columbia College, Cornell University, Howard University, the University of Iowa, Chicago State University and DePaul University, where he served as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett University Professor. Madhubuti is a co-editor of Not Our President: News Directions from the Pushed Out, the Others, and the Clear Majority in Trump’s Stolen America (2017). In September-October of 2017, Third World Press Foundation celebrated 50 years of book publishing.





Photo by Judy Natal

HARRYETTE MULLEN teaches courses in American poetry, African American literature, and creative writing at UCLA. Her poems, short stories, and essays are published widely and reprinted in over one hundred anthologies, including several by Cambridge, Norton, Oxford, and Penguin presses. Her work has been included in Best of Callaloo and selected four times for the Best American Poetry series. She is a recipient of a Jackson Poetry Prize, Academy of American Poets Fellowship, United States Artist Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Katherine Newman Award for Best Essay on Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States, and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Poetry. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, French, German, Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal), Polish, Swedish, Danish, Turkish, Bulgarian, and Kyrgyz. She has published eight poetry books, including Recyclopedia (Graywolf, 2006), winner of a PEN Beyond Margins Award, and Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California, 2002), a finalist for a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A collection of her essays and interviews, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, was published in 2012 by University of Alabama Press. Her poetry collection, Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary, published by Graywolf Press in 2013, is the subject of a recent article in the Journal of Modern Literature.





Photo by Marion Ettlinger

SONIA SANCHEZ is a national and international lecturer on Black culture and literature, women’s liberation, peace and racial justice. She is author of over 20 books and one of the most significant voices of the Black Arts Movement. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, she has edited an anthology, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts, the Lucretia Mott Award for 1984, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, she is a winner of the 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades, the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities for 1988, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom (W.I.L.P.F.) for 1989, a PEW Fellowship in the Arts for 1992-1993 and the recipient of Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999. Does Your House Have Lions? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received the 2018 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry, the Poetry Society of America’s 2001 Robert Frost Medalist, and she was named a Ford Freedom Scholar by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.



Photo by Melanie Dunea

KEVIN YOUNG is the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, newly named a National Historic Landmark, and Poetry Editor of the New Yorker. He is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, most recently Brown (2018), a New York Times Notable Book; Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015 (Knopf, 2016), longlisted for the National Book Award; and Book of Hours (Knopf, 2014), a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets. His collection Jelly Roll: a blues (Knopf, 2003) was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Young’s nonfiction book, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf Press, November 14, 2017), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Nonfiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and named a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” selection, and a “Best Book of 2017″ by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution,Smithsonian, Vogue, the Atlantic, Nylon, BuzzFeed, and Electric Literature. Young’s previous nonfiction book, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press, 2012), won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prizeand the PEN Open Book Award; it was also a New York Times Notable Book for 2012 and a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.

Young is the editor of eight other collections, most recently The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, 1965-2010 (BOA Editions, 2012) and The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink (Bloomsbury, 2012). Named University Distinguished Professor at Emory University, Young was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.


Presented By

  • Lewis Center for the Arts
  • University Center for Human Values
  • Department of Comparative Literature
  • Program in Canadian Studies
  • Department of African American Studies
  • Humanities Council
  • Program in Creative Writing
  • Department of English
  • Program in American Studies