We are thrilled to announce that Lauren Russell is the 2021 recipient of the Anna Rabinowitz Prize from the Poetry Society of America, for Descent, published by Tarpaulin Sky Press.

Descent was selected by judge Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, who notes “it was incredibly difficult to choose from this year’s entries,” and says

There was one project, however, where at the end I had a small weep, and this was Lauren Russell’s Descent, this cycle’s winner. As “a work of biomythology”, Descent writes with, through, and against the blank interstices of the archive that act as a portal between the author’s origins in the history of both slaveholders and enslaved peoples and their present moment. These archives, and the absence of recorded names and agencies, are open only to what one imagines they could contain. By focusing on these “afterlives of property” (Sharpe), Russell bathes light onto her ancestors, the Black mistresses who were recorded as property and mothers of mix-raced children and attempts to imagine their lives independent of those who enslaved them. That the archive is at once richly full and empty tugs its way into the author’s present; a present marred by contemporary anti-Blackness, internal & external racism, and a palpable exhaustion and social aloneness that emerges from the confusing tethers and entanglements with such history. It is a project of personal historical documentation that has resonances for many in this country whose Black ancestry comes from the enslavement of Black people. Part lyric memoir, poetic exploration, and archival research, Russell’s Descent enacts the wake of Christina Sharpe’s wake-work where “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.”

Our congratulations to honorable mention JoAnne McFarland and finalists Shin Yu Pai, Nova Cypress Black, Christine Gardiner, Gabrielle Lamb, Sammay Dizon, and Charles Theonia & Jonah Rosenberg. Please read Bertram’s thoughtful notes on the books by all these authors, at the Poetry Society of America website.