Awards & Prizes

Yalie Saweda Kamara Wins the Seventh Annual Jake Adam York Prize

Milkweed Staff — 02/21/2023



Copper Nickel and Milkweed Editions are thrilled to announce that judge Amaud Jamaul Johnson, has chosen Yalie Saweda Kamara’s book Besaydoo as the winner of the 2022–23 Jake Adam York Prize. Besaydoo will be published by Milkweed Editions in Winter 2024, and Kamara will receive $2,000.

Yalie Saweda Kamara is a Sierra Leonean American writer, educator, and researcher from Oakland, California, and the 2022–23 Cincinnati and Mercantile Library Poet Laureate (two-year term). She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the National Book Critics Circle, and Callaloo. Kamara’s poetry, fiction, interviews, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Callaloo, A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry, Black Camera: An International Journal, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. She is the Director of Creative Youth Leadership at WordPlay Cincy and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati.

In choosing Kamara’s book Johnson says: “Sometimes, neighborhood is nation. And for the diasporic Black body, the City of Oakland is like a Station of the Cross. In Besaydoo, Yalie Saweda Kamara offers a love song dedicated to her hometown, a place shaped by humor, heartbreak, and humiliation. This debut poetry collxection stands alone for its scope and aesthetic dexterity. Here, Kamara is radiant, tender, and true.”

There were 749 manuscripts submitted to the prize this year, which our screeners narrowed to 16 additional finalists and 7 semifinalists. It’s our opinion that every one of these manuscripts is outstanding and eminently publishable.

With that in mind, the finalists were:

Bryan Byrdlong, Strange Flowers

Maria Isabelle Carlos, Constancia

Alicia Cuomo, Nocturnal Chirping

Thomas Dooley, The Perpendiculars

Chanda Feldman, Glance

Tennessee Hill, A Lifetime Trapped in Peach Brine

L. A. Johnson, Tempt Toward the Flood

Esther Lin, Cold Thief Place

Cate Lycurgus, Pending Light

Sebastian Merrill, Ghost :: Seeds

Stephanie Niu, Call It Miraculous

Brooke Sahni, In This Distance

Leigh Sugar, FREELAND

Angelique Zobitz, Seraphim

Aumaine Rose Smith, Habits of Adornments


The semifinalists were:

Raye Hendrix, What Good Is Heaven

Corey Miller, Studies for an Embrace

Trey Moody, A Natural History of Oblivion

Luke Patterson, Medic

Zack Rybak, When I Was My Brother’s Brother

Tara Skirt, Faith Farm

Isaac Willis, Downstate

And since screeners do essential—if too often unsung—evaluative work narrowing the field of entrants, we think it’s important to note each year who our screeners are (both to say thank you and in the interest of transparency).

This year’s screeners were:

Abdul Ali, author of Trouble Sleeping

Brian Barker, author of Vanishing Acts

Sara Eliza Johnson, author of Vapor

Janine Joseph, author of Decade of the Brain

Wayne Miller, author of We the Jury

Mark Neely, author of Ticker

Paige Quiñones, author of The Best Prey

Bunkong Tuon, author of The Doctor Will Fix It

Finally, we want to mention something briefly about our process: Since a number of entrants had previously published in Copper Nickel, and since other entrants knew one or more of our screeners on a personal level, we were sure to pass the manuscripts among the screeners until no one was tasked with screening work by anyone she had published or with whom she had a personal relationship. We believe strongly in running an ethical contest, and we work hard to ensure that we continue to do so.