Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, 2021 George Garrett Award Recipient

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

AWP celebrated the start of the completely virtual #AWP21 Conference & Bookfair on the evening of Wednesday, March 3, 2021 with the AWP Award Series event. We were delighted to present the 2021 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature to Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, who was nominated by Dr. Connie Voisine, poet and professor at New Mexico State University

Named after the late George Garrett, a former poet laureate of Virginia and one of AWP’s founding board members, this prize recognizes individuals who have made notable donations of care, time, labor, and money to support writers and their literary accomplishments. Along with his distinguished body of work as a poet and novelist, George Garrett is remembered and beloved for his steadfast mentorship and advocacy for other writers. The prize comes with a $2,000 honorarium and conference travel, accommodations, and registration. Together, we express our heartfelt admiration for the inspiration awardees offer to the literary community.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke is a poet, scholar, and community activist. She left school at 14 to become a field worker and following her departure from manual labor due to disability, she returned to earn an AFAW from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Vermont College. Hedge Coke has mentored Native populations, at-risk youth, migrant workers, and disabled writers and has taught in juvenile justice facilities, domestic violence shelters, and prisons. In addition to her own numerous works, she has edited several anthologies, two of which include the work of K-12 students. She was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters in 2021.

Her works include The Year of the Rat, Dog Road Woman, Off-Season City Pipe, Blood Run, Burn and Streaming, as well as a memoir, Rock Ghost, Willow, Deer. She is the editor of the anthologies Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas, Effigies, and Effigies II and is a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside. Hedge Coke came of age working fields, factories, and waters and is currently at work on a film, Red Dust: resiliency in the dirty thirties, a new CD, and new poems.

“I feel fortunate to have come from parents that instilled service as a given . . . set[ting] into place the unfolding of my life to be one of service for needs larger than my own,” said Hedge Coke before offering a poem of gratitude in acceptance of the George Garrett Award. We invite you to read the transcription of her speech provided below.

Hedge Coke’s Remarks & Reading

To be awarded the 2021 George Garrett Award is deeply moving.

I feel fortunate to have come from parents that instilled service as a given. They met and married working in the earliest beginnings of physiotherapy, to help others to gain mobility and pain relief in the peak of polio, not long from their individual World War II traumas. One visually impaired, one deaf. Both coming from fields, from horses, from labor. Coming from people who expected me to make things better for others rather than expect anyone to do things for us, set into place the unfolding of my life to be one of service, for needs larger than my own. As a writer, this unfolding is, in essence, a wingspan spread to provide entry for others to catch a thermal and glide a bit more at ease than my own location of it.

We come from deep time, writers. From places on the planet and in the universes surrounding, that provide for us when we reach some height in creative flow, in contemplative meditation, and when we reach our tap roots deep below the soles of our planted feet and replenish ourselves with unseen aquifers below. Or, when we move over the earth focusing on the movement and knowing each touch upon the ground is connective and as meaningful as our movement is over it, in air. Air encompassing all around us, sustaining all, everything. And, as I’ve noted for decades now, we connect here most often, so poetry, writing, is like breathing – exactly. We inhale the world, our experience and curiosities of all that is around and beyond us, and exhale, revealing our translation, musicality, language, perception into the air and onto the page as expiration.

We share breath with every other organism we share the planet with, and so, even unseen, are united, and when we move toward the unity, toward making opportunity and change for others to move through challenges and pathways a bit easier, are the better for it. All of us.

It is with love, with visceral longing, we meet our callings, reaching out to others to make journey less a burden, to challenge whatever closes pathways to source and to cherish moments we move through relishing the beauty and horrendous elements of living before us, learning as humans.

Thank you, I offer this poem of gratitude.

measuring up

It wasn’t socks missing from his feet,
not elbow cloth unraveled unilaterally,
not equal displacement of chin and brow,
nor the eye that sat a bit lower on the right,
it was his knuckle that made me weep,
clove corners gone wayside, like miniscule meat
hooks clawed away bits of him each shift he made,
invisible a timeliness unfurled. It was his muscle
torn through, festering, the prosthetic hand, finger-
width dismay all across his attempted grin, left
there just like that, for anyone to see—it was his mercy.
In the end we’re rarely beautiful, mostly placed
away from compromising situations into poses
offsetting what has become of us in some gawker’s
unnerving eyes. Yet, he was, is, still here in mine,
and I’m human because of it. Maybe only. Maybe.

A granddaughter may inherit
my turquoise earrings.
The clay pans I’ve used for years,
their pungency filling the house,
will offer up a new generation
of bread.
Someone not yet born may read this poem.

But who will ask the questions
born of the answers
I juggle today.
Who will know the heat
of this great love,
or catch fragments of my memory
reassembling just before dawn.

from Streaming (Coffee House Press, 2014)
Thank you to all my mentors and ancestors. Thank you, Cynthia Sherman, and to everyone behind the scenes.
& Deepest gratitude to Connie Voisine for the nomination & to AWP!