The X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize

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The X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize

$10,000 + Publication

2023 Judge: Richard Blanco

Established in 1998, The X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize highlights one full-length collection of poetry per year. The Prize comes with a $10,000 advance, a standard royalty contract, and 10 copies of the published book.

Submissions open each year on July 1 and close on September 30.

Submission Guidelines and List of Previous Winners

Winner of the 2022 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize:

GHOST :: SEEDS, by Sebastian Merrill

Selected by Kimiko Hahn

Submission Guidelines

To submit please visit our online submission manager.

General Guidelines

*Writers who studied with the final judge or TRP staff for a semester-length period are not eligible. Writers who studied with the final judge or TRP staff for two-week residencies, single workshops, or other instances less than a semester in length are eligible, provided the work submitted is previously unseen by TRP staff or the final judge.

Manuscript Guidelines

Richard Blanco

RichardBlanco_headshotRichard Blanco’s mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born. Forty-five days later, the family immigrated once more to New York City, and eventually settled in Miami. Only a few weeks old, Blanco already belonged to three countries, a foreshadowing of the negotiations of cultural identity, community, and belonging that would shape his life and continue to inform his work. As a poet, memoirist, and essayist, Blanco is a sought-after speaker who captivates audiences around the nation and the world with his dynamic storytelling and powerful readings.  Advocating for diversity, LGBTQ rights, immigration, arts education, cultural exchange, and other important issues of our time, Blanco routinely speaks at a variety of venues and functions, including fundraisers and galas, professional development conferences, middle and high schools, universities, commencement ceremonies, writing conferences, and literary festivals.

In 2013, Blanco was selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, joining the ranks of such luminary poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. He stands as the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Since 2016 he has served on the Obama Foundation’s storytelling committee, and in 2023 President Biden bestowed Richard Blanco with the National Humanities Medal for breathing life into the identity and idea of America.

In 2022, he became Miami-Dade’s first poet laureate. A committed proponent of the civic role that poetry can fulfill in the public realm, Blanco’s work addresses sociopolitical matters that affect us collectively. He is the contributing poet to “The Village Voice,” a bi-monthly segment on Boston public radio station WGBH that discusses news topics through the lens of socially conscious poetry. In addition, he has written and performed occasional poems in support of organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba, Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards of Silicon Valley, and the Boston Strong benefit concert following the Boston Marathon bombings. In 2017, Two Ponds Press published Boundaries, featuring Blanco’s poems paired with Jacob Hessler’s photos. Together, their work investigates the boundaries of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, among many others; and challenges the physical, imagined, and psychological dividing lines—both historic and current—that shadow the United States. His latest book of poems, How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019), both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. About this collection, poet Carolyn Forché reflects: “In this timely collection, Richard Blanco masterfully embraces his role as a civic poet, confronting our nation’s riddled history in the light of conscience. At once personal and political, these lyric narratives decry injustice and proclaim our hopes.”

The Academy of American Poets chose Blanco to serve as its first Education Ambassador. He writes lesson plans for the Academy, visits students at all grade levels, and conducts workshops for educators on innovative and easy ways to teach poetry. He is also a frequent poet-in-residence at high schools across the country, offering interdisciplinary programs for both students and educators, customized to meet each school’s particular needs. As a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Florida International University, he developed courses on the intersections of poetry, community, art and current events. He has also served as artist-in-residence at Colby College, and has taught at Georgetown University, Wesleyan University, American University, and many literary centers throughout the country. Blanco is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and a Phi Beta Kappa Alumnus Member. A builder of cities as well as poems, Blanco holds degrees in civil engineering and creative writing from Florida International University. In addition, he has received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Southern Maine, and Colby College.

Blanco’s first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, was published in 1998 to critical acclaim, winning the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. The collection explored his cultural yearnings and contradictions as a Cuban-American, and the emotional details of his transformational first trip to Cuba. Blanco’s wanderlust journeys through Europe and the Americas inspired his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005), which received the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for its explorations of place, culture, family, and love. Looking for The Gulf Motel, published in 2012 by University of Pittsburgh Press, relates Blanco’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities. The book received the Paterson Prize, the Thom Gunn Award, a Maine Literary Award, and was translated into a Spanish bilingual edition by Valparaíso Ediciones. Most recently, Blanco is the author of Homeland of My Body: New & Selected Poems with Beacon Press. The University of Pittsburgh Press has published chapbooks of his occasional poems, including his presidential inaugural poem “One Today,” “Boston Strong,” and “Matters of the Sea.” “One Today” was also published as a children’s book in collaboration with the renowned illustrator, Dav Pilkey.

In his first prose publication, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (Beacon Press, 2013), Blanco shared the emotional details of his experiences as presidential inaugural poet, reflecting on his understanding of what it means to be an American and his life-changing role as a public voice. Blanco’s critically acclaimed memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood (Ecco Press, 2014), is a poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir that explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. The book won the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Memoir and a 2015 Maine Literary Award, and it has been selected for first-year reading programs at several colleges, including Duke University, FIU, and Oklahoma City University.

Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that illuminates the human spirit. His work asks those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?


X. J. Kennedy, for whom this competition is named, is a distinguished poet, translator, anthologist, editor, and is the author of numerous books of poetry, children’s literature, and textbooks on English literature. Kennedy won the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal for lifetime service to poetry in 2009.

Previous Winners:

2022: Sebastian Merrill – GHOST :: SEEDS

2021: Kathleen Rooney – Where Are the Snows

2020: Brooke Sahni – Before I Had the Word

2019: Caroline M. Mar  Special Education

2018: Garret Keizer  The World Pushes Back 

2017: Jay Udall – Because a Fire in Our Heads

2016: Jeff Hardin – No Other Kind of World

2015: Gwen Hart – The Empress of Kisses

2014: Corinna McClanahan Schroeder – Inked

2013: Ashley Mace Havird – The Garden of the Fugitives

2012: Jeff Worley – A Little Luck

2011: James McKean – We Are the Bus

2010: George Drew – The View from Jackass Hill

2009: Joshua CobenMaker of Shadows

2008: Ashley Renee – Basic Heart

2007: William Baer – “Bocage” and Other Sonnets

2006: Becky Gould Gibson – Aphrodite’s Daughter

2005: Deborah Bogen – Landscape with Silos

2004: Lee Rudolph – A Woman and a Man, Ice-Fishing

2003: Eric Nelson – Terrestrials

2002: Jan Lee Ande – Reliquary

2001: Jorn Ake – Asleep in the Lightning Fields

2000: Barbara Lau – The Long Surprise

1999: Philip Heldrich – Good Friday

1998: Gray Jacobik – The Surface of Last Scattering