Mission and History

Mission and History

Founded in 2016, the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics is a creative think tank for African American and African diasporic poetries and poetics. Our mission is to highlight, promote, and share the work of African American and African diasporic poets and to pollinate cross-disciplinary conversation and collaboration. Our programming aims to present exciting live poetry and conversation, contextualize the meaning of that work, and archive it for future generations.

We are a space for innovative collaboration between writers, scholars, and other artists thinking through poetics as a unique and contemporary movement. In its effort to highlight, promote, archive, research, and generally advance the practices and epistemologies of African American and African diasporic poetry and poetics, CAAPP supports individual writers, artists, scholars, and others nationally and at a range of career stages and academic ranks. We also prioritize providing opportunities for poets and artists outside of academia, in the Pittsburgh community and beyond.



The Center emerged in a 2015 brainstorming session between poets Dawn Lundy Martin, Terrance Hayes, and Yona Harvey. This meeting was initiated by English Department Chair and Professor Don Bialostosky, who wanted to discuss how the department might best celebrate the presence of three acclaimed African American poets on its faculty. In short, the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics was brought into being through true collaboration, an approach now at the heart of CAAPP’s philosophy and work.


What is our poetics?

We are concerned with a practice-based poetics, where creating is centralized as a way of working through questions to arrive at new ideas. Collaboration, then, the process of creating in partnership, in community, is an expression of the practice of poetics at its most dynamic. It is also an opportunity for greater inclusion and cross pollination. The spirit of cultural collaboration and conversation is at the core of our philosophy, programming, and aspirations.


Why now?

The work of the Center is vital at this particular time, when so many black poets are at the forefront of contemporary American poetry. African American and African diasporic poets are pushing the envelope of poetics and expressions of blackness through art. Though some attention has been paid to the fact of black poetry, there has been little discussion of what the diverse black poetries of this particular moment mean and do. In a climate of renewed attention on racial disparities and systematic violence against African Americans, the Center is focused on a poetics of engagement, in relation to this historic moment and with an eye toward moments to come.