March 27, 2017 Claudia Rankine and Nathaniel Mackey to Receive the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry

Reading Scheduled for April 20

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The Library of Congress will present the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry to Claudia Rankine, for her book “Citizen: An American Lyric,” and to Nathaniel Mackey, for lifetime achievement.

Rankine and Mackey will receive the awards and read selections from their work at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C.  The reading is free and open to the public. Tickets are not needed.

The 2016 prize—the 14th to be given—is awarded for the most distinguished book of poetry published in the preceding two years, 2014 and 2015, and for lifetime achievement in poetry.  Rankine’s book, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” was published by Graywolf Press in 2014.  Mackey is the author of six poetry collections, most recently “Blue Fasa,” published by New Directions Press in 2015.

The panel of judges for this year’s prize included Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges, selected by 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Juan Felipe Herrera; National Book Award-winning poet Mary Szybist, selected by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden; and scholar Betty Sue Flowers, selected by the Bobbitt family.

“Citizen: An American Lyric” has received the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, the Poets and Writers' Jackson Poetry Prize and the PEN Open Book Award.  It was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry and the National Books Critics Circle Award in Criticism—the only book to be nominated in two categories. In a review, the Washington Post called the book “part protest lyric, part art book” and “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of black life in America.”

Rankine is the author of four previous books, including “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric” (2004).  She was born in 1963 in Kingston, Jamaica, and currently serves as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University.  Among her awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Mackey is the author of six poetry collections, including the National Book Award-winning “Splay Anthem” (2006) and “Eroding Witness” (1985), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series. He has published several book-length installments of his ongoing prose work, “From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate,” beginning with “Bedouin Hornbook” in 1986.  

His many honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize, the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society, the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the 2015 Bollingen Prize from Yale University.  From 2001 to 2007, he served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.  Mackey taught for many years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is currently the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.  The editor and publisher of the journal Hambone since 1982, Mackey was born in 1947 in Miami, Florida.

The Bobbitt Prize, a biennial $10,000 award, recognizes a book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years, or the lifetime achievement of an American poet. The prize is donated by the family of Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory, and awarded at the Library of Congress. Bobbitt was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s sister. While a graduate student in Washington, D.C., during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson met college student O.P. Bobbitt when they both worked in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. They married and returned to Texas. 

Past winners of the Bobbitt Prize can be viewed at

The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress fosters and enhances the public’s appreciation of literature. The center administers the endowed chair, U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry; coordinates an annual season of readings, performances, lectures and symposia; and sponsors prizes and fellowships for literary writers. For more information, visit

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PR 17-038
ISSN 0731-3527