Illinois Authors

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Kemi Alabi

Born: Wisconsin
Connection to Illinois: Alabi now lives in Chicago.

Biography: Kemi Alabi is the author of Against Heaven (Graywolf Press, 2022), selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award. Their poems and essays appear in the Atlantic, Poetry, the Nation, Boston Review, the BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2, Best New Poets 2019, and elsewhere. Selected by Chen Chen as winner of the 2020 Beacon Street Poetry Prize, Kemi has received Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Brittle Paper Award nominations along with fellowships from MacDowell, Civitella Ranieri, Tin House and Pink Door. Kemi believes in the world-shifting power of words and the radical imaginations of Black queer and trans people. As cultural strategy director of Forward Together, they built political power with cultural workers of color through programs like Echoing Ida, a home for Black women and nonbinary writers, and annual art campaigns like Trans Day of Resilience. The Echoing Ida Collection, coedited with Cynthia R. Greenlee, and Janna Zinzi, is available now from Feminist Press.

  • Against Heaven: Poems Academy of American Poets First Book Award, selected by Claudia Rankine; PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review

Primary Literary Genre(s): Poetry

Primary Audience(s): Adult readers


Selected Titles

Against Heaven: Poems
ISBN: 1644450828 OCLC: 1246142577

Graywolf Press 2022

Kemi Alabi’s transcendent debut reimagines the poetic and cultural traditions from which it is born, troubling the waters of some of our country’s central and ordained fictions―those mythic politics of respectability, resilience, and redemption. Instead of turning to a salvation that has been forced upon them, Alabi turns to the body and the earth as sites of paradise defined by the pleasure and possibility of Black, queer fugitivity. Through tender love poems, righteous prayers, and vital provocations, we see the colonizers we carry within ourselves being laid to rest. Against Heaven is a praise song made for the flames of a burning empire―a freedom dream that shapeshifts into boundless multiplicities for the wounds made in the name of White supremacy and its gods. Alabi has written an astonishing collection of magnificent range, commanding the full spectrum of the Black, queer spirit’s capacity for magic, love, and ferocity in service of healing―the highest power there is.