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Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She has published six books of poems: The Venus Hottentot (1990), Body of Life (1996), Antebellum Dream Book (2001), American Sublime (2005)—which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and was one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year,” Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color—her first young adult collection, co-authored with Marilyn Nelson (2008 Connecticut Book Award), and her most recent book Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (2010 Paterson Prize for Poetry). Her two collections of essays are The Black Interior (2004) and Power and Possibility (2007), and her play, “Diva Studies,” was produced at the Yale School of Drama. She has also composed words for musical projects with composers Elena Ruehr and Lewis Spratlan.

In 2009, she composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. The poem was later adapted into a children’s book with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist David Diaz and released in March 2012. Her poems are included in dozens of collections and have been translated into several languages including Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic and Bengali.

Professor Alexander is one of the first recipients of the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.” She is the 2007 recipient of the first Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. Most recently, she was named an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner for her lifetime achievement in poetry. She is the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of African American Studies and the chair of the African American Studies Department.

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(August 2012)
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Elizabeth Alexander

Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of African American Studies
African American Studies Department
Yale University
81 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06510



BA, 1984, Yale University
MA, 1987, Boston University
Ph.D., 1992, University of Pennsylvania





Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of African American Studies,
Yale University
Chair, African American Studies Department, Yale University
Professor, Departments of African American Studies, American Studeis and English, Yale University
Associate Professor (Adjunct), African American Studies Department, Yale University
Grace Hazard Conkling Poet-in Residence, Smith College
Inaugural Director, The Poetry Center at Smith College
Assistant Professor, English Department, University of Chicago
Dissertation Fellow, English Department, Haverford College


I. Books

“Cemetery for the Illustrious Negro Dead: A Prehistory of African American Studies” (in progress)

Praise Song for the Day (children’s book, illustrated by David Diaz), HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2012

Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010, Graywolf Press, 2010 (Winner, Paterson Prize for Poetry; nominee, Hurston-Wright Award fro Poetry)

Praise Song for the Day (chapbook), Graywolf Press, 2009

Canto de Alabanza por el Dia (chapbook; translated with Rodrigo Rojas), Graywolf Press, 2009

Poems in Conversation and a Conversation, (with Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon), Slapering Hol Press, 2008

Power and Possibility: Essay, Reviews, Interviews. University of Michigan Press, Poets on Poetry Series, 2007

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, (with Marilyn Nelson. Winner, Connecticut Book Award) Front Street Press, 2007

American Blue: Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books (U.K.), 2006

American Sublime, Graywolf Press, 2005
(Pulitzer Prize finalist, American Library Association 25 Notable Books of the Year)

The Black Interior: Essays, Graywolf Press, 2004
(Finalist for best non-fiction, Hurston-Wright Foundation, 2005)

Antebellum Dream Book, Graywolf Press, 2001
(Village Voice 25 Best Books of 2001)

Body of Life, Tia Chucha Press, 1996

The Venus Hottentot, University Press of Virginia, Callaloo Poetry Series, 1990. Reissued by Graywolf Press, 2004

II. Edited Volumes

“12x12: American Poetry Today” (in progress)

“The Library of American Book of African-American Poetry” (in progress)

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. and introduction, Library of America “American Poetry Project,” 2005

Love's Instruments by Melvin Dixon, introduction by Elizabeth Alexander. Tia Chucha Press, 1995

III. Essays (selected)

“Free Black Men,” in “The New Face of Race,” ed. Ken Mack and Guy-Uriel Charles, The New Press (forthcoming)

“Ripping out the Seams: New Thoughts on Black Experimental Poetry,” Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 2011

“We Were Here and We Are Here: The Cave Canem Poetry Workshop,” in Poetry in Communications, ed. Kate Coles, Poetry Foundation, 2011

“Harlem Plays the Best Ball in the World,” in Harlem: A Century in Images, ed. Thelma Golden, Rizzoli, 2010

“Jean Toomer Travels to Sparta, Georgia,” New Literary History of America, ed. Werner Sollors and Greil Marcus, Harvard UP, 2009

“My Grangmother's Hair,” in The Black Body, ed. Meri Nana-Amah Danquah, Seven Stories Press, 2009

“Second Spring,” Meridel LeSeuer essay, Water*Stone, Fall 2007

“Five Portrait,” in Deb Willis, ed, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits, Smithsonian and ICP exhibition and catalogue, 2007

“Contemporary African-American Poetics,” (with Harryette Mullen) in Cave Canem Tenth Anniversary Anthology, ed. Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, University of Michigan Press 2006

“The Negro Digs Up Her Past,” SAQ, Fall 2005

“Some White Men,” in Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships, ed. Emily Bernard, HarperCollins, 2004

“The Genius of Romare Bearden,” in Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African-American Art, ed. Alvia Wardlaw, Duke University Press, 2003

“‘The Space Between’: On Etheridge Knight” in Poetry Speaks, ed. Elise Paschen and Rebecca Presson Mosby, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2001

“Meditations on ‘Mecca’: Gwendolyn Brooks and the Responsibilities of the Black Poet,” in By Herself, Women Reclaim Poetry, ed. Molly McQuade, Graywolf Press, 2000. Also published in Associated Writing Programs Chronicle, March 2000

“Real/Not Real,” catalogue essay, “Real: Six Black Figurative Painters,” Bass Museum of Art, Miami, 1996

“A Black Man Says ‘Sorbet,’” catalogue essay, Two Cents: The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Poetry of Kevin Young, Miami-Dade Community College Wolfson Galleries, 1995

“We Must Be About our Fathers ‘Business’: Anna Julia Cooper and the In-corporation of the Turn-of-the-Century Aframerican Intellectual,” Signs, (Winter 1994)

“Memory, Community, Voice: African-American Poetry in the Age of AIDS,” Callaloo (Spring 1994)

“‘Coming out Blackened and Whole’: Fragmentation and Reintegration in Audre Lorde’s Zami and The Cancer Journals,” American Literary History (Winter 1994)

“‘We’re Gonna Deconstruct Your Life!’: The Making and Un-Making of the Black Bourgeois Patriarch in Ricochet,” in Representing Black Men, ed. Marcellus Blount and George P. Cunningham, Routledge, 1996

“‘Can you Be BLACK and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” in Public Culture (Fall 1994), and Whitney Museum, Black Male, 1994

“Walt Whitman and Gwendolyn Brooks,” Voice Literary Supplement, April 1994

“Living in the Jet Stream,” Voice Literary Supplement, February 1994

“The Anxiety of Authority,” The Women's Review of Books, February 1994

IV. Poetry and fiction in journals and anthologies

widely published; furnished upon request



















1990, 1991

Connecticut Book Award for Poetry for Crave Radiance

Hurston-Wright Award for Poetry for Crave Radiance

Paterson Poetry Prize for Crave Radiance, sponsored by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College

Anisfield-Wolf Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry

Honorary Doctorate, Simmons College

Honorary Doctorate, College of St. Benedict

Alumni of the Year, Sidwell Friends School

Inaugural Poet, President Barack Obama

Mildred Londa Weisman Fellow (invited), Radcliffe Institute for
Advanced Study, Harvard University

Jackson Poetry Prize (Inaugural recipient)

Alphonse Fletcher, Sr., Fellowship, “for work which promotes the broad goals of the brwon v. Board of Education decision” (inaugural class)

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship

Visiting Fellow, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University

Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, University of Chicago

Chicago Humanities Institute Fellowship, University of Chicago

Fellow, Ragdale Foundation

NEA Creative Writing Fellowship

Fellow, Corporation of Yaddo


Toni Morrison Lectures, Princeton University Center for African American Studies (to be delivered Spring 2013)

“Reconsidering Lucille Clifton,” Keynote at Poets Forum, October 2012

Association of College Unions International, May 2012

“African-American Poetry as the Sacred Word,” Parks-King Lecture, Yale Divinity School, January 2012

Writers at Rutgers, World Aids Day talk, November 2011

“Cemetery for the Illustrious Negro Dead,”DuBois Institute Fall Colloquium Series, Harvard University, September 2011

“Open the Unusual Door,” Keynote Address to the Freshman Class, Yale University, August 2011

“Ripping out the Seams: New Thoughts on Black Experimental Poetry,” Hopwood Lecture, University of Michigan, April 2011

“Cemetery for the Illustrious Negro Dead,” Keynote address, Columbia University Conference on Black Women’s Intellectual History, April 2011

“Hearing America Singing,” University of Washington Graduate School, April 2011

Commencement Address, College of St. Benedict, May 2010

Commencement Address, Simmons College, May 2010

“Venus Revisited,” Keynote address, Venus 2000 conference, NYU, March 2010

“Free Black Men,” Race in the Age of Obama Conference, Duke University Law School, March 2010

“In the Company of Scholars,” Yale Graduate Dean’s lecture, March 2010

Drue Heinz lecture, Pittsburgh, PA February 2010

Keynote Address, Zora Neale Hurston Festival, Eatonville, FL, January 2010

Martin Luther King Keynote address, Wittenberg University, January 2010

Martin Luther King Keynote address, University of Pennsylvania, January 2010

“Anna Julia Cooper in Washington,” Conference on Anna Julia Cooper, Penn State University, October 2008

James Baldwin Lecture, Hampshire College, March 2007

“The Ongoing Influence of Paul Laurence Dunbar on 20th Century African-American Poetry,” Dunbar Conference, Stanford University, March 2006

“Re-defining Experimental Black Poetry,” CUNY Graduate Center, March 2005

“Why Amistad, Why Now?: History Poems and the Contemporary Moment,” Yale University, “Why Literature Matters” Conference, April 2005

“The ‘kitchenette’, The World: On Gwendolyn Brooks,” Keynote Address, Medgar Evers College, Gwendolyn Brooks Symposium

The Windfall Address, Nichols College, Dudley, MA, October 2004

Commencement Speaker, Yale University Black Graduation, May 2004

“Black Alive and Looking Back at You,” Keynote Address, June Jordan Memorial Conference, LaGuardia Community College, May 2003

Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson Scholar-in-Residence Address, Dillard University, New Orleans, February 2003

“Rethinking the Black Female Body,” Keynote Address, “Writing and the Difference ‘Race’ Makes” Conference, Southern Connecticut Community College, September 2002

“Langston Hughes and the Road to New Negro Poets USA,” Keynote Address, “Langston Hughes and His World” Conference, Yale University, February 2002

“Toward the Black Interior,” John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary Study, Duke University, February 2002

“On Black Masculinity,” Princeton Conference on Black Masculinity, November 1997

Keynote Address, “Affirmative Action Babies, Bourgeois Blues,” Unnatural Acts Conference, UC Riverside, Riverside, CA, April 1997

“‘The Block’ and Beyond: Bearden, DuBois, and Collage,” Symposium on Romare Bearden, University of Pennsylvania, September 1996

“Writing the Venus Hottentot,” Riverfront Forum, University of Chicago, November 1994

“Memory, Community, Voice: African-American Poetry in the Age of AIDS,” Conference in Honor of Melvin Dixon, CUNY Graduate Center, March 1994; Black Women in the Academy Conference, M.I.T., Jan. 1994

“‘Can you be BLACK and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” Midwest Faculty Seminar, University of Chicago, April 1993; Contested Boundaries Conference, University of California-Irvine, May 1993; Society for Cinema Studies Conference, February 1993

“Re-Visions of ‘Two-Ness’: Du Bois and Beyond,” Midwest Faculty Seminar, University of Chicago, January 1993

“Issues in Black Women’s Literature,” Mellon Literacy Program, University of Chicago, October 1992

“On Romare Bearden,” UCLA, Wight Art Gallery, Jan. 1992

“New Approaches for Teaching Afro-American Poetry,” PATHS/PRISM workshop, Philadelphia, PA, 1989






Premiere, “City Song,” with Lewis Spratlan (Composer),
Woolsey Hall, Yale University, Yale Glee Club

Premiere, “Five Men,” with Elena Ruehr (Composer),
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, Washington Vocal Arts Society

Collaborator, “Doppler Incident, ”
conceived and directed by Kerry James Marshall,
BAM/New Wave Festival, New York City

“Diva Studies, ” full-length verse drama
(directing thesis commissioned by Yale School of Drama)
University Theater, Yale University

POETRY READINGS extensive national and international readings since 1986;
furnished upon request
































Advisory Board, African Poetry Book Foundation

Judge, United States of Artists fellowship competition

Panel Chair, National Book Award for Poetry

Judge, Naomi Long Madgett Book Prize, Lotus Press

External Advisory Committee,
Black Metropolis Research Consortium

Judge, Cave Canem Book Prize

Judge, Rona Jaffe Foundation

Advisor, Poetry Foundation Website

Phi Beta Kappa Poet, Harvard University

Nominator and nominee evaluator,
U.S. Artists, Whiting, Rona Jaffe, and MacArthur Foundations

Judge, Bollingen Prize for Poetry, Yale University Libraries

Phi Beta Kappa Poet, Yale University

American poetry representative, Pablo Neruda Centennial
Celebration, Santiago, Chile, sponsored by Fundacion
Neruda and Universidad Diego Portales

Judge, Whiting Foundation

Judge, James Laughlin Award, Academy of American Poets

Judge, O.B. Hardison Award, Folger Shakespeare Library

New Haven Arts Awards Selection Committee

Program consultant, International Festival of Arts and Ideas,
New Haven, CT

Poetry Judge, National Book Award

Interdisciplinary Panel Juror, Pew Charitable Trusts Arts Grants

Board, Poetry Society of America

Board, Gwendolyn Brooks Center, Chicago State University

Advisory Board, Furious Flower Foundation for
African American Poetry

Founding and Honorary Board Member,
Cave Canem Foundation

Visiting writer abroad, Berlin and Hamburg, Germany;
Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Salvador, Brazil;
Santiago, Chile; Treasure Beach, Jamaica.
Sponsored by Calabash; U.S. State Department;
Goethe-Institut; Callaloo magazine

Guest Editor, Missouri Arts Council Biennial

Dramaturge, “Twilight” by Anna Deavere Smith,
Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

Poetry Panelist, National Endowment for the Arts

Consultant, Poetry Center of Chicago

Board, Tia Chucha Press


2007, 2009




2001, 2003







1988, 1989



Napa Valley Writers Workshop

Visiting Associate Professor, English Department,
University of Pennsylvania (Spring)

Arvon Foundation Workshop, Yorkshire, England

Yale University Summer School

New York University, Graduate Creative Writing Program

Cave Canem Poetry Workshop (founding faculty)

Visiting Assistant Professor, English Department,
Yale University (Spring)

Visiting Assistant Professor, English Department,
Northwestern University (Fall)

Dunbar Vocational High School,
N.E.H.-funded project on Gwendolyn Brooks

Guild Complex, Chicago, Illinois

Wesleyan University Summer Writer's Conference

Germantown Friends School (Spring)

University of Pennsylvania (freshman English seminars)

Boston University (undergraduate creative writing seminar)


2001, 2000, 1998







Pushcart Prizes for Poetry

Honorable Mention, “Diva Studies,” Jane Chambers Playwriting
Award, Women and Theatre Program of ATHE

George Kent Prize for Poetry,
Chicago State Black Writers Conference

Kenyon Review Prize for Literary Excellence

Illinois Arts Council Literary Award

George Kent Prize, Poetry magazine
(awarded by Gwendolyn Brooks)

Larry Neal Writer’s Award for Fiction,
D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Additional references available upon request

Copyright © 2005-2012 Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved.     Photography: C.J. Gunther    Web Design: Ye (Rubi) Huang