Cyrée Jarelle Johnson ’19 Wins James Laughlin Award For Poetry

Lisa Cochran
September 29, 2023

Writing alumnus Cyrée Jarelle Johnson ’19 has been awarded the prestigious James Laughlin Award for his second poetry collection, Watchnight (Nightboat Books, 2024).

The award—named after poet, publisher, and New Directions Founder James Laughlin–grants the winning poet a $5,000 cash prize as well as a one-week residency at the Miami Betsy Hotel. The award is funded by the Drue Heinz Trust.

According to award judges Sam Sax, Leila Chatti, and John Murillo, “Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s second collection Watchnight is a major accomplishment of form and imagination. The poems in this book traverse the space between the confessional, the historical, the mythopoetic, and the speculative, guiding readers through all the rich particulars that make up the material of a life. Here is a poet firmly rooted in, but never tied down by, tradition. A poet in dialogue with those who have come before, but who brings to the conversation what is all too rare these days: something poignant and new to say.”

Johnson’s first collection, Slingshot (Nightboat Books, 2019), received a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Johnson served as the inaugural Poet-in-Residence at the Brooklyn Public Library and was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. He is currently a 2023 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow. 

Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is originally from Piscataway, New Jersey. His work can be read in The Boston Review, WUSSY, The New York Times, Vice, Rewire News, Nat. Brut, and The Root.