2023 George Garrett Award Recipient: Duriel E. Harris

Duriel E. Harris

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.

AWP Executive Director Cynthia Sherman:

Dr. Duriel E. Harris is an extraordinary poet, teacher, editor, performer, and sound scholar. She is author of the poetry collections No Dictionary of a Living Tongue (2017), Drag (2003), and Amnesiac: Poems (2009). Multigenre works include her one-woman theatrical performance Thingification, as well as Speleology, a video collaboration with artist Scott Rankin.

Cofounder of the avant-garde poetry performance trio the Black Took Collective and of Call & Response, a dynamic of Black women and performance, Harris has been a MacDowell and Millay Colony fellow and has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the Cave Canem Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Her work has appeared widely, including BAX, Mandorla, The &Now Awards, Of Poetry & Protest, Ploughshares, Troubling the Line, and The Best of Fence, and her compositions have been translated into Polish, German, and Spanish.

Harris earned degrees in literature from Yale University and New York University and a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago Program for Writers. She is a professor of English in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Illinois State University and the editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. Tara Reeser spearheaded the nomination campaign and ended the letter with Harris’s words because she knows best what her mission offers.

“Nearly fifty years since Obsidian’s founding, its narrative continues as one of triumph and struggle. A narrative of creativity and resilience, the archive and repertoire of a diverse and innovative people joined in the integrity of struggle and determined to thrive despite adversity, state-sanctioned violence, institutional racism, structural inequalities, and countless markers of present obstacles and uncertain features. As Obsidian’s editor, I recognize my role as the steward, the trustee of this legacy as Obsidian persists, creating and holding space for critical and creative Black thought, literature and arts, critical and creative Black culture, in this moment amid the twin plagues of white supremacy and the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

Please join me in congratulating the 2023 George Garrett Award winner, Dr. Duriel E. Harris.

Dr. Duriel E. Harris:

It’s so beautiful. I start thinking, I want to make sure that I don’t drop it before people can at least take pictures of it, right? And I can show it to my parents. I did write some comments because I’m not great off the cuff, in part because I feel a sense of tremendous privilege to be able to stand before you. Some people know, my mother was a sharecropper until she was twelve years old. My father is ninety years old. My mother is eighty-seven years old. Each day that I wake up and my parents are still on the earth is a beautiful day for me.

I count myself—this is not my speech—now I’m speaking off the cuff, but I do count myself incredibly fortunate to be in the company of such generous, talented, and creative people. I know people in my phone who I call, who will answer the phone, who are just some of the best people, and many of them are writers. And I kid you not, as I say, I don’t blow smoke. These are some good, good people who restore my faith in humanity.

The 2023 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature. For all our kin and chosen kin, this perpetual present.



This is as I said.


Preach! Come on, now! In gratitude for all that is—the tremendous bounty of being. For this moment now, our substance and aliveness, vibration, our sentience and percipience, light, this movement that dwells within and in which we are graced to dwell. The privilege of being here now, in this moment, to celebrate our connection, our happening together.

Oh my! The 2023 George Garrett Award of Outstanding Community Service in Literature!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to AWP for this great honor, with special thanks to the award panel and Cynthia Sherman, Colleen Cable, the AWP staff and board, and particular special thanks to Tara Reeser for spearheading the movement that brings me before you this evening.

I am proud to be a member of such an awesome and talented creative community. One representation of this community is the late George Garrett for whom this award is named. Another is the company of brilliant nominees for the Garrett Awards this year. I don’t know who they are, but I’m certain they’re brilliant. And also, past and future winners. There are some of the past winners who are here with us today—Craig and Allison.

Can you all stand up? Stand up.

Craig [Santos Perez] 2022, Allison [Adelle Hedge Coke] 2021. Very proud. Those are two of the past winners and we also now recognize the future winners, all of these who help us bring our whole full selves to the affirmation of life manifest in part through the support of writers and their literary accomplishments. Thank you all.

I also want to thank Obsidian’s late founder, Alvin Aubert, our early benefactor Sonia Sanchez, and our emeritus editors, with special thanks to Emeritus Editor and Elder Afaa Michael Weaver and the whole ride or die Obsidian staff and crew, especially co-creator leadership in editing and production, Sheree Renée Thomas, Tara Reeser, Marva Lord, and Steve Halle.

Special thanks as well to my parents, my mentors in the endeavor that is the Obsidian publishing platform, Obsidian advisory editors, Obsidian’s current administrative leadership and support team, and those who wrote at this juncture on my behalf, including Helen Churko, Kwame Dawes, Katherine Ellison, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Erica Hunt, Douglas Kearney, MJ Kim, John Keene, C. Leigh McInnis, Jeanne Merkle, T. Urayoán Noel, Sterling Plumpp, tammy ko Robinson, Marlon Stephen, and Aondover Tarhule.

I must also thank the numerous genre editors, contributing editors, advisory editors, editorial assistants, publications assistants, interns, readers, and countless supporters at our host institution, and the numerous Black writers and artists, the nearly 2,000 contributors past and present who have made Obsidian the creative archive of our diverse peoples for over forty-nine years.

And specifically, to bring into the room these ancestors: Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange.




Those women, by their example, made a space away for me, anticipated my arrival even before I was born.




Choir. I know I’m preaching to the choir.


Eight Truths from (my) Flesh.

8 March 2023.

1. I am alive. I am space and water, mostly.
2. I am grateful to have this opportunity, this moment, to luxuriate in breath.
3. I thank you for being my witness. One and many. I am as we are.
4. Awareness: There are demands of dis-ease.
5. I had a vision once. From that vision, this phrase equivalent to myself—everywhere there are owls and multitudes.
6. I took on Obsidian as a response to murder. I took on Obsidian as a response to murder. A Case Stated. With or without sanctuary.
7. We come. We keep coming. We come. We keep coming. We will continue until we can no longer continue. Every atom.
8. Reverence for life. A phrase of human language, full, like the people—human and nonhuman—of Earth, moving witness.

Friends, makers, cocreators! Let us celebrate ourselves and this work—cultivating imagination and innovation—doing that which is ours to do! Ashe!

Come visit us at table 237. Thank you all. Please celebrate yourselves and do all the things that are yours.