Our Spotlight Poet Program offers another vehicle by which we can highlight the contributions poets of underrepresented communities are making to today’s literary landscape.

Spotlight Poets

Valerie A. Smith, 2024

Nominated by Sundress Publications

© BJB Glamour Photography

Valerie A. Smith—the Solstice MFA Program’s second annual Spotlight Poet—is a poet and teacher from Atlanta, Georgia. Her first book, Back to Alabama, is a poignant poetry collection exploring the complexities of Black American identity, family, cultural heritage, womanhood, and religious faith. Valerie considers family in “Curlie Blue” and delves into the Black experience from music, art, and film to historical racism and resilience. This compelling work offers profound insights into the speaker’s journey, inviting readers to reflect on the enduring themes of social justice and spirituality. A deep, transformative examination of the Black American narrative, Back to Alabama resonates with raw truth and forthright introspection, leaving a lasting impact on the reader's heart and mind. Valerie’s poems have appeared in Radix, Aunt Chloe, Weber, Spectrum, Obsidian, Crosswinds, Dogwood, Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, Oyster River Pages, and Wayne Literary Review. She has a PhD from Georgia State University and an MA from Kennesaw State University, where she currently teaches English and creative writing. Above all, she values spending quality time with her family.

Adeeba Shahid Taluker, 2023

Nominated by Kundiman

© Christopher Lucka

Adeeba Shahid Talukder is a poet, vocalist, and translator of Urdu and Persian poetry. She is the author of What Is Not Beautiful (Glass Poetry Press, 2018); her debut full-length collection, Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved (Tupelo Press, 2020), was a winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Poem-A-Day, Gulf Coast, Poetry Daily, and The Margins, and her translations in PBS Frontline and Words Without Borders. Adeeba has received fellowships from Kundiman and Poets House, and she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.

Cave Canem Partner Poets

Nicholas Goodly, 2022

© Caleb Jamel Brown

Nicholas Goodly is a writer and artist from Atlanta. They are the writing editor of Wussy Magazine, team member of the performing arts platform “Fly on a Wall,” and author of the debut poetry collection from Copper Canyon Press, Black Swim. Nicholas is currently a Creative Writing Ph.D. student at Florida State University. They are a finalist for the 2020 Jake Adam York Prize, the runner-up for the 2019 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and recipient of the 2017 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Nicholas received a teaching fellowship and MFA from Columbia University and was a semifinalist in the 2021 and 2018 Discovery/ Boston Review Contest. They were a spring 2020 Hambidge Creative Residency Distinguished Fellow, a finalist in Tupelo Press’ Four Quartets 2020: Poetry in the Pandemic contest, second-place prize winner for the 2018 New South Poetry Contest, a finalist in the 2017 Tennessee Williams Poetry Contest, and a finalist in the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize. They are a Best of the Net 2020 Nominee and Critic’s Choice for Best Poet 2018 in Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Malcolm Tariq, 2021

© Karisma Price

Malcolm Tariq is a poet and playwright from Savannah, Georgia, who writes about intersections of Blackness, queerness, and the American South. He is the author of Heed the Hollow, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Georgia Author of the Year Award, and Extended Play. A former apprentice at Horizon Theatre Company and a 2020-2021 resident playwright with Liberation Theatre Company, Malcolm has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Watering Hole, the Social Science Research Council, and Imagining America. He is a graduate of Emory University and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan. Malcolm lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the Programs and Communications Manager at Cave Canem, a home for Black poetry.

Julian Randall, 2019

© Nicholas Nichols

Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. He has received fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT, and The Watering Hole, a home for writers of color in the south. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. Julian is the curator of Winter Tangerine’s Lineage of Mirrors, a living archive of poets of color and their creative influences. His work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, and Poetry magazine, and anthologized in Bettering American Poetry, Nepantla and Furious Flower. He is a candidate for his MFA in Poetry at Ole Miss. His first book, Refuse (Pitt, Fall 2018), is the winner of the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. He talks a lot about poems on Twitter.

Natalie J. Graham, 2018

© Maya Washington

Native of Gainesville, Florida, Natalie J. Graham earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Florida. She completed her Ph.D. in American Studies at Michigan State University as a University Distinguished Fellow. Her first, full-length poetry collection, Begin with a Failed Body (University of Georgia Press, 2017), was chosen by Kwame Dawes for the 2016 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. This collection is rooted in the landscape of the U.S. South and centers on the body as a site for retelling stories to reveal persistent, complex humanity. Her poems and articles have been published in Callaloo, New England Review, Valley Voices: A Literary Review, Southern Humanities Review, The Journal of Popular Culture, Transition, and Phylon. Her research interests include Hip Hop Culture, Food Culture, and Identity Performance. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and currently associate professor of African American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Find her online on Twitter, Instagram or her website.

Donika Kelly, 2017

© John Jackson

Donika Kelly’s debut collection, Bestiary (Graywolf Press 2016), was selected by Nikky Finney for the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin; and in 2013, she received a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University. Donika is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and a 2004 June Fellow of the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in West Branch, Indiana Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. Donika is an Assistant Professor at St. Bonaventure University, where she teaches creative writing.

Rickey Laurentiis, 2016

© Self Portrait

Rickey Laurentiis was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the author of Boy with Thorn, selected by Terrance Hayes for the 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) and named one of the best poetry books of 2015 by Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, and Poets & Writers magazine, among others places. His honors include a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, and his poems appear widely, including Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, and Poetry. He currently lives and teaches in New York City.

F. Douglas Brown, 2015

© Jesse Pniak

F. Douglas Brown of Los Angeles is the author of Zero to Three (University of Georgia Press 2014), recipient of the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Mr. Brown, an educator for twenty years, teaches English at Loyola High School, an all-boys Jesuit school. He holds a MA in Literature and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and is both a Cave Canem and Kundiman fellow. His poems have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly (VQR), Toegood PoetryThe Sugar House ReviewCura MagazineMuzzle MagazineTransfer Magazine, and Santa Clara Review. When he is not teaching, writing, or with his two children, Isaiah and Olivia, he is busy DJing in the greater Los Angeles area.

Reggie Harris, 2014

© Ocean Morisset

Reginald Harris won the 2012 Cave Canem /Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize for Autogeography. A Pushcart Prize Nominee, recipient of Individual Artist Awards for both poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council, and Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year for 10 Tongues: Poems (2002), he is Poetry In The Branches Coordinator and Information Technology Director for Poets House in New York City. In addition, he is an Associate Editor for Lambda Literary Foundation’s Literary Review. His work has appeared in numerous journals, anthologies, and other publications. Reggie lives in Brooklyn.

Vievee Francis, 2013

Vievee Francis is the author of Blue-Tail Fly (Wayne State, 2006) and Horse in the Dark (2012), which won the Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize for a second collection. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2010 and Angles of Ascent, A Norton Anthology of African American Poetry. She was the 2009/2010 Poet in Residence for the Alice Lloyd Hall Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, where she earlier received her MFA. She is the recipient of a 2009 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award as well as a 2010 Kresge Award. She makes her home in Michigan and is married to poet Matthew Olzmann.

Nicole Terez Dutton, 2012

©Diana L.B. Dutton 

Nicole Terez Dutton’s work has appeared in Callaloo, Ploughshares, 32 Poems, Indiana Review and Salt Hill Journal. Nicole earned an MFA from Brown University and has received fellowships from the Frost Place, the Fine Arts Work Center, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her collection of poems, If One Of Us Should Fall, was selected as the winner of the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She lives in Ohio and is editor of The Kenyon Review

Iain Haley Pollock 2011

© Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Iain Haley Pollock lives in Mount Kisco, NY, and teaches English at Rye Country Day School. His first collection of poems, Spit Back a Boy, earned the 2010 Cave Canem Prize. His work has appeared in several literary journals, including American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Callaloo. Iain received his undergraduate degree at Haverford College and his MFA in Creative Writing at Syracuse University, where he won the Joyce Carol Oates Award. He held a Cave Canem Fellowship from 2006-2009. He was the Solstice MFA Program’s first Cave Canem Partner Poet and joined the MFA faculty in summer 2012.