Cave Canem Poetry Prize Winner Ariana Benson First-Book Reading At Harlem’s Schomburg Center 

August 30, 2023

On Tuesday, September 12, 2023, Ariana Benson, was the winner of the Brooklyn-based Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her manuscript Black Pastoral. 

Benson will host her first reading at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and will be in conversation with poet and essayist Sharan Strange.

Cave Canem is the leading professional organization committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of Black poets. Founded in NYC in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape, the Cave Canem Fellowship has nurtured the careers of today’s leading poets such as Clint Smith, Elizabeth Alexander, Reggie Betts, Mahogany Browne, and many more. 

Ariana’s manuscript Black Pastoral was selected by poet and Cave Canem Poetry Prize judge Willie Perdomo for the award for which she received $1,000 and first-book publication by the University of Georgia Press.


Black Pastoral explores the complex duality of Black peoples’ past and present relationship with nature. It surveys the ways in which our histories (both Black histories and natural/ecological histories), Black suffering and thriving, are forever wound around one another. Benson’s poems meditate upon the violence and tenderness that simultaneously characterize the entangling of the two, taking the form of a series of ecopoetic musings that re-envision these confluences. Moreover, Benson’s poems illustrate the beauty inherent to Blackness, to nature, to the remarkable relationship they share, while also refusing its permission to collect idly, like an opaque skein of film obscuring uglier, necessary truths. Black Pastoral seeks to be both love letter and elegy, both flame to raze the field and flood to nourish the land anew.

Ariana Benson

Ariana Benson was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness. A 2022 recipient of the Furious Flower Poetry Prize and the Porter House Review Poetry Prize, Benson also won the 2021 Graybeal Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets, and an Academy of American Poets Prize from her alma mater, Spelman College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in POETRY, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. Benson serves as a Helen Degen Cohen Summer Reading Fellow with Rhino Poetry and a Nonfiction Editor of Auburn Avenue Literary Journal. Benson has received fellowships and support from Poets & Writers, Breadloaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, The Seventh Wave, Indiana University Writers’ Conference, Oak Spring Garden Foundation, and others.


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