Photo credit: Nivea Castro.
Cheryl Clarke is the 2021 recipient of the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, named in honor of the legendary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. Queer thought and lesbian sensibility are central to Cheryl Clarke’s literary art. She is the author of eight books, including six books of poetry; her most recent collection of poems is 2020’s Targets. Twenty-five years of writing were collected in The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980–2005 (2006). Clarke is also the author of the critical study After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement. She is the co-editor, with Steven G. Fullwood, of To Be Left with the Body, a book from the AIDS Project Los Angeles. Clarke’s writing has appeared in such iconic anthologies as This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology.
She is currently a member of the editorial board of Sinister Wisdom, and her activism has also entailed work for such organizations as the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network and the Astraea Lesbian Action Foundation. In addition, Clarke is a principal organizer of the annual Hobart Festival of Women Writers in the Catskills. During her long career at Rutgers University, she served on the university-wide Committee on Gay/Lesbian Concerns and then as the founding director of Rutgers’ Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities. Clarke lives in Hobart, New York, with her longtime partner, Barbara Balliet.
In accepting the prize, Clarke paid tribute to the queer audiences who “developed me as a writer” and to her fellow black lesbian feminist authors. She noted that her career has been a testament to the fact that “black women and LGBTQ writers could change the world, and we have.” She also commented on her particular pride in being “in company with past recipients of the Whitehead Award like Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Samuel Delany, Alison Bechdel, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and Jaime Manrique.”
Clarke will receive a prize of $3000 with this award. Listen to her complete acceptance remarks in the video below, or on YouTube.