Awards Index

The Poetry Center Book Award | Guidelines for Submission Poetry Center Book Award | The Audre Lorde Creative Writing AwardThe Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Prize | San Francisco Browning Society Award | The Piri Thomas Poetry Prize | The Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize

The Poetry Center Book 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 Ashley Toliver, for Spectra (Coffee House Press)

Poetry Center Book Award winner Ashley Toliver will read her work, along with award judge Jason Bayani, followed by a conversation with one another and their audience, Thursday September 17, 7:00–8:00 pm Pacific Time.

Judge's Statement:

  • Ashley Toliver’s Spectra is an immensely moving work. Its three-act structure entrenches within the violent friction between nature and manmade forms and between nature and the human body. Under Toliver’s carefully measured pen, this movement through violence brought to mind for me, persistence: the persistence to withstand the structures of domesticity (and all those structures domesticity is nestled under); the persistence to withstand an attack from within the body as that same body is bearing a new life. It is Toliver’s persistence that tempers and, at times, wields the flame of this violence, it is this persistence that seeks to create from absence, and from the first page to the last it absolutely mesmerizes me. In the poem “Standing Outside Your House with a Match and a Gallon of Gasoline”, Toliver writes “I still don’t know what kind of woman/ I am. But as the flame nears the fingers/ that trust the match, as close as the skin/ can stand it to singe, I call this the nerve/ to find out—”. As taken as I am by the journey within the book, I am also moved by the vision the book creates, a vision of a woman holding both the fire of life and death in her hands, that searches within it all with a keen strength and wonder. And how gorgeous and powerful of a vision Ashley Toliver makes, what this vision, when we acknowledge it from a Black woman’s lens, means within the context of this time; what it pulls back from erasure; what it invokes and empowers. I am deeply in awe of this book— this book that is constantly seeking, that seeks to reclaim and repossess, that knows this is worthy of our persistence, at least until death, which, as Toliver writes, is “the last road to awe I know.”

 —Jason Bayani

Recipients of the Poetry Center Book Award, 1980–present

Submissions for 2019 copywrite books to be entered for the Poetry Center Book Award have closed.

Guidelines for Submission of 2020 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, 2020 thru JANUARY 31, 2021.

Published original books of poetry by a single author (no collaborative works, anthologies, or manuscripts) must be copyrighted 2020. Translated works when translated by the author do qualify (e.g., work written in Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, et al., and translated to English by the author). 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 recipients from 1980 forward for the Poetry Center Book Award.


The Audre Lorde Creative Writing Award

The Poetry Center's Audre Lorde Creative Writing Award is revived for Fall 2020, having been originally initiated by Jewelle Gomez during the late 1990s. The Audre Lorde Award will be presented annually by The Poetry Center for an original, outstanding work of poetry (hybrid work welcome) by a continuing SF State student, that in its artistry expresses a social conscience. 

For Fall 2020, the unanimous choice to receive the award is Elizabeth Rosas. The award carries a $500 prize, coordinated with SF State scholarships. There are in addition three other finalists whose selection of work is singled out for special acclaim: Samantha Cosentino, Lillian Giles, and Bradley Penner. These four poets will read their work for The Poetry Center, Thursday September 10, 7:00–8:00 pm Pacific Time.

Judges' Statement:

  • Elizabeth Rosas is the unanimous choice for the Audre Lorde Creative Writing Award, present by The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University. Rosas submitted a portfolio of sophisticated linked poems exploring the legacy of strong women in the writer’s family. The poems draw connections of entanglement, from the varied nature of women’s work—sex work, house work, farm work—geographically, from Mexico to the Central Valley in California—to the objectification of women’s and girl’s bodies, and other modes of violence deployed against women and girls. The use of figurative language is smart and unexpected and startling throughout. “I was making music by hitting four silver plates / my mom threw a tape deck out the window—/ it sounded like a slap.” The poems have beautiful images throughout but always pack a punch that disquiets the reader: “I am retracing tragedies, standing / on McKinley Avenue trying to knock / loose those who killed my aunt / and threw her body in this ditch.” Powerful and unforgettable, these poems draw acute attention to women, and violence towards these women, who have been historically and systemically ignored by the so-called American mainstream. In all ways, this work resonates with the spirit of the Audre Lorde Award, and the legacy of Audre Lorde. 

—May-lee Chai, Steve Dickison, Elise Ficarra


  • 2020:  Elizabeth Rosas (Honorable Mention: Samantha Constantino Baker, Lillian Giles, Bradley Penner)


The Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Prize

The Poetry Center is pleased to sponsor The Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Prize 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, and Sylvia Plath, among others.


Check postings on campus for deadlines. SF State 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.


  • 2020:  Ana Cielito Fuentes (Honorable Mention: J. Arquimides)
  • 2019:  No award given
  • 2018:  Kimberly Reyes
  • 2017:  Sophie Eden (Honorable Mention: Nathan Truong)
  • 2016:  Brooke Harries
  • 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

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.


  • Open to SF State Creative Writing Students.

  • All entries must be original, unpublished dramatic monologues.

  • Any SF State 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 November 1):  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

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 SF State 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 SF State faculty.

Adaku Nneka Okeke was chosen to receive the Piri Thomas Poetry Prize for 2020. Judge's statement:

  • Adaku Nneka Okeke’s poem “Black Girl Magic” takes up this trope of our time and brings an accounting to bear that is driven by desire and visions of justice—and something else, beyond (popular and neo-) liberal notions of ‘equity’ or ‘inclusion’ that can be meted out like shares in “the oppressive westernized ideology of beauty” or “the feminism of close confidants” serving as “a euphemism for white privilege, and denial of. This poem that thinks and performs its refusals and its affirmations, its soundings out, takes its time and claims its ground. She lets the rest of us listen in, an invitation’s promise, to a poem aware—“We were not given words to speak with to remain silent.”—just how its magic isn’t waiting for approval.


  • 2020:  Adaku Nneka Okeke
  • 2019:  No award given
  • 2018:  Brittany Nguyen
  • 2017:  DeMareon Gipson
  • 2016:  Vanessa Hamill
  • 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

Note: funds for the prize were exhausted in 2017, and the award has been discontinued until further notice.

The Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize was initiated in 1999 in memory of the late poet Frances Jaffer and was given annually to an undergraduate student in Creative Writing at SF State 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.

The Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize was funded through donations from friends of Frances Jaffer, and carried a cash prize. Candidates for the Jaffer Prize were nominated by SF State faculty.


(This award has been discontinued)

  • 2017:  Chiara Maria Phillips
  • 2016:  Phillip Chavez
  • 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 Antonio Villarán
  • 2004:  Unju Chi
  • 2003:  Hongyu Min
  • 2002:  John Sakkis
  • 2001:  Mary DeNardo
  • 2000:  Cynthia Sailers