The Poetry Center Book Award

About the Award

The Poetry Center Book Award has been presented annually since 1980 by The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University, to a single outstanding book of poetry published in the previous year. The award carries a cash prize and an invitation to read, along with the award judge, at The Poetry Center in San Francisco.

The Poetry Center Book Award goes to Orlando White for LETTERRS (Nightboat Books).

This year's Poetry Center Book Award Reading will take place Thursday, April 27, 2017, at The Poetry Center, with Poetry Center Book Award winner Orlando White reading along with award judge Patrick James Dunagan. White is honored for his 2015 collection LETTERRS (Nightboat Books). 

Judge's Statement: for LETTERRS by Orlando White

San Francisco poet Robert Duncan remarked: “There is no end to the task of bringing the sounds into our conscious art.” (“Notes on the Structure of Rime”) As a critical reader I am always looking out for those poets whose work answers Duncan’s oracular call for unabashed attention to how the language of the poem is presented so as to be thereby sounded; a poet who sets the poems upon the page as though the realization of a musical score, readied for the eye to hear as the ear sees. Over in Arizona, native born Diné (Navajo) poet Orlando White churns out just such work, attuned to “a lilt of sound: curve murmurs” (“EMIT”). White’s LETTERRS presents forward-learning contemplative action towards what constitutes an avant-garde poetics of today: a bracing engagement of/with advancing a spatial “open space,” page-as-field, poem-writing. White describes how “The white space is just as important as the text in a poem, whether it’s the counter that shapes an O or S, a line break after a word or a caesura within a line.” (“Functional White: Crafting Space & Silence”) His use of caesura and spacing within the individual line of the poem designates breath, measure, and the fragility of even individual letters. While with a quick glance through LETTERRS “the blank” white space of the page may be deemed deceptively sparse in appearance, upon sustained reading White’s employment of the practice proves to be truly nothing less than masterfully accomplished.

White sees “white space as a place of liberation, dissolving boundaries between what is authoritative and what is not.” (LETTERRS interview, Taos Journal) In this same conversation, he also speaks of “the page” as a “type of energy,” stating that “as an Indigenous person too, I see it as a type of resistance against English colonialism.” Without necessarily overt expression of a political stance, White nevertheless remains committed against colonialist tendencies latent in his experience using English as a poet. “One can argue language is always connected to race and vice versa; this may be why my poems ultimately reflect an intersection of Diné thought and English fluency. But I find my sensibilities are attuned to how a poet builds her or his poems rather than focusing on content, which may overwhelm a poem.” (“To Find the Subject by Leaving the Subject: Expectations of Race & Content”) For my own needs, LETTERRS reignites the exciting potentiality for working with the open space of the page, ever aware of the specific attentive care that’s required. White serves up his own colossal ambitions and tops them with admirable verve. I’m thrilled by the promise of his work and am very much interested in seeing what’s next; the as yet unwritten exploration towards which White is undoubtedly headed. “Write, means to / place life / into book.” (“n”) It’s nothing other than a pleasure to recognize White’s substantial contribution to the larger ongoing endeavor of Poetics which is achieved here. May many future readers realize in this work the necessary life-sustaining freshness which the Imagination requires to carry the work of “the poems” forward: “Letter hypnotizes to stay / alive after meaning fades.” (“O”)

—Patrick James Dunagan

Guidelines for submission of 2017 books

The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University seeks submissions for the annual Poetry Center Book Award. Entrees will be accepted from FEBRUARY 1, 2017 thru JANUARY 31, 2018. Published original books of poetry by a single author (no collaborative works, anthologies, translations, or manuscripts) must be copyrighted 2017. Entrees can be submitted by publisher, author, or by a reader. An entry fee of $15 per book (all of which goes directly to the benefit of the award winner and award judge) must accompany each book. Please include a cover letter indicating the author's name, book title(s), name of person or publisher issuing check, and check number. Checks should be payable to The Poetry Center and entrees mailed to:

The Poetry Center/SFSU
Book Award
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco CA 94132

*The judge for the award will not be announced in advance.

View the past winners for the Poetry Center Book Award.


The Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award

About the Award

The Poetry Center is pleased to sponsor The Academy of American Poets/Harold Taylor Award at San Francisco State University. Founded in 1955 with ten schools, the University & College Poetry Prize Program now includes more than 175 prizes across the country. Many prominent American poets won their first recognition with an Academy College Prize, including Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Tess Gallagher, Louise Gluck, Allen Grossman, Jorie Graham, Kimiko Hahn, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Li-Young Lee, Charles Wright, Sylvia Plath and others.


Check postings on campus for deadlines. SFSU students may submit to The Poetry Center up to 10 pages of poetry, constituted by any number of poems. (Example: One ten page manuscript would constitute an entire single submission) Manuscripts must be clearly typed and legible. Manuscripts will not be returned. Names should not appear on manuscript pages. The writer's name, address, telephone number and social security number should be included in a cover letter accompanying the manuscript. The Winner will receive a $100 check from the Academy of American Poets. Results are announced in late April.

Past Recipients

  • 2015:  Ryan Nash (Honorable Mention: Phillip Baron)
  • 2014:  no award given
  • 2013:  Jennifer Cheng and Jackson Meazle (Honorable Mention: Luke Dani Blue)
  • 2012:  Amy McNeely (Honorable Mention: Matthew Keuter)
  • 2011:  Monica Regan (Honorable Mention: Susan Calvillo and Carolyn Ho)
  • 2007:  Tina Petrakis  (Honorable Mention: Lorena Santos)
  • 2006:  Paul Dertien
  • 2005:  Zaid Shlah and Kathryn Pringle (shared award)  (Honorable Mention: Lauren Shufran and James Brook)
  • 2004:  Elise Ficarra
  • 2003:  Brandon Brown
  • 2002:  Megan Pruiett 

San Francisco Browning Society Award

About the Award

The dramatic monologue as evolved by Robert Browning is a poem written in the first person singular in which the speaker expresses his or her own character (as well as the character of a person spoken about in the poem) through a discourse with a silent listener, who may or may not be the subject of the poem.

Other interesting features of a dramatic monologue include: 1) The reader takes the part of the silent listener. 2) The speaker uses a case-making, argumentative tone. 3) We complete the dramatic scene from within, by means of inference and imagination. While the heart of the form relies on a first-person speaker, note that previous winners have taken some artistic liberties.

See the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics for a fuller description of the dramatic monologue. Students are encouraged to read Robert Browning's My Last Duchess, Porphyria's Lover, or The Laboratory to become familiar with the dramatic monologue form.


  • Deadline: 5pm, Friday December 11, 2017

  • Open to SFSU Creative Writing Students.

  • All entries must be original, unpublished dramatic monologues.

  • Any SFSU Creative Writing student may submit up to 3 poems of not more than 5 pages each.

  • Attach a cover letter to your manuscript with your name, address, phone number and social security number.

  • The poems will be judged anonymously, so please do not put your name on the poems!

  • Use a separate cover sheet for each entry. All entries must be original, unpublished DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES.

  • Submit by hand an original and 2 copies of your work (that's 3 copies total) to: THE POETRY CENTER, HUM 511
    Or by mail (receipt date December 16):  The Poetry Center, Browning Award, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco CA 94132
    No email submissions.

  • Poets retain full rights to their work, but manuscripts will NOT be returned.

  • All winners will be invited to attend the Spring meeting of the Browning Society, usually the second Friday in March. Winners will be announced by mid-February.


  1. First Place $300.00

  2. Second Place $200.00

  3. Third Place $100.00

  4. Three Honorable Mentions $50.00 each


The Piri Thomas Poetry Prize

About the Award

The Piri Thomas Poetry Prize was initiated in 2009 by Friends and Family of Piri Thomas (September 30, 1928 – October 17, 2011), and is given annually by The Poetry Center to an undergraduate student enrolled at SFSU in creative writing. The prize is administered by the Academy of American Poets.

Piri Thomas's autobiography, Down These Mean Streets, was published in 1967 to wide acclaim, and chronicled his early life on the rough streets of El Barrio in Spanish Harlem, New York City. He worked for many years as an educator and advocate for young writers and readers, with a PBS film produced in 2003, titled Every Child is Born a Poet. A stellar recording for American Clavé shares the same title, and features the poet in performance with an outstanding array of artists from the jazz and Latin music world.

The Piri Thomas Poetry Prize carries a $100 cash reward. Candidates for the prize are nominated by SFSU faculty.

Past Recipients

  • 2015:  Joshua Gill-Sutton
  • 2014:  Branden Balenzuela
  • 2013:  Jenna Littlejohn
  • 2012:  Eliza Dzulkafli
  • 2011:  Jillian Claire Graves
  • 2010:  Robert Ellis Lee

The Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize

The Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize was initiated in 1999 in memory of the late poet Frances Jaffer and is given annually to an undergraduate student in Creative Writing at SFSU on the basis of the student’s outstanding innovative work.

Ms. Jaffer was prominent as a poet and editor in the Bay Area literary community, and was influential particularly on a younger generation of women writers. Author of two books of poetry, She Talks to Herself in the Language of An Educated Woman (Kelsey St. Press, 1981) and Alternate Endings (HOW(ever), 1985), Frances Jaffer was a founding coeditor of HOW(ever), the San Francisco-based literary journal devoted to exploring historical and contemporary innovative writing by women.  A volume of the poetry of Frances Jaffer is being prepared for publication, edited by Kathleen Fraser and Rob Halpern.

Note: This prize is coordinated with financial aid awards and handled by the San Francisco State University Financial Aid Office.

The Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize is funded through donations from friends of Frances Jaffer, and carries a cash prize. Candidates for the Jaffer Prize are nominated by SFSU faculty. No submissions accepted.

Past Recipients

  • 2015: Nicole McKeon
  • 2014: Denise Massingill
  • 2013: Chelsea Turowsky
  • 2012: Marissa Carter
  • 2011: Benjamin Lopez
  • 2010: Alexander West
  • 2009: Nicole Escobar
  • 2008: Diana Ybarra
  • 2007: Leslie Patron
  • 2006: Christopher Girard
  • 2005: Jose Villaran
  • 2004: Unju Chi
  • 2003: Hongyu Min
  • 2002: John Sakkis
  • 2001: Mary DeNardo
  • 2000: Cynthia Sailers