Now accepting submissions
Deadline:  March 1, 2012 

The Kundiman Poetry Prize is dedicated to publishing exceptional work by Asian American poets.
Winner receives $1,000, book publication with Alice James Books and a New York City feature reading.

Alice James Books is a cooperative poetry press with a mission is to seek out and publish the best contemporary poetry by both established and beginning poets, with particular emphasis on involving poets in the publishing process.

General Guidelines

  • Entrants must reside in the United States.
  • Manuscripts must be typed, paginated, and 50 – 70 pages in length (single spaced).
  • Individual poems from the manuscript may have been previously published in magazines, anthologies, or chapbooks of less than 25 pages, but the collection as a whole must be unpublished. Translations and self-published books are not eligible. No multi-authored collections, please.
  • Manuscripts must have a table of contents and include a list of acknowledgments for poems previously published. The inclusion of a biographical note is optional. Your name, mailing address, email address and phone number should appear on the title page of your manuscript.
  • No illustrations, photographs or images should be included.
  • The Kundiman Poetry Prize is judged by consensus of the members of Kundiman’s Artistic Staff and the Alice James Books Editorial Board. Manuscripts are not read anonymously. Learn more about our judging process.
  • Winners will be announced in June.
Guidelines for Electronic Manuscript Submission

You may submit your manuscript to The Kundiman Prize electronically by accessing our online submission manager here.  Entry fee is $28.

Guidelines for Print Manuscript Submission

Should you wish to submit your manuscript via postal mail, mail your entry to:
P.O. Box 4248
Sunnyside, NY 11104

Send one copy of your manuscript submission with two copies of the title page. Use only binder clips. No staples, folders, or printer-bound copies.

MANUSCRIPTS CANNOT BE RETURNED. Please do not send us your only copy.

Entry fee is $28.  Checks or money orders should be made out to Alice James Books. On the memo line of your check, write The Kundiman Poetry Prize.
Checklist for print manuscript entry:
  • One (1) copy of manuscript enclosed, with acknowledgements and two (2) copies of title page
  • $28 entry fee
  • Business sized SASE
  • Stamped addressed postcard
  • Postmarked by March 1, 2012

Prize Events

For information on Prize Events, click here.

Previous Winners


Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.  His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Inch, Gulf Coast, Rattle and elsewhere.  He’s received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kresge Arts Foundation.  Currently, he is a writer-in-residence for the InsideOut Litereary Arts Project and the poetry editor of The Collagist.


Pier by Janine Oshiro

Janine Oshiro holds degrees from Whitworth College (now Whitworth University), Portland State University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is a Kundiman fellow and the recipient of a poetry fellowship from Oregon’s Literary Arts. She lives in Hawaii and teaches at Windward Community College

Praise for Pier

“As if through an echolocation of brilliant and insistent off-rhyme, these poems effect a delicate placement of self into body, body into world, world into word. And at the center of it all is even more delicate loss.  Oshiro’s Pier takes its measure in precise instances that ache with intelligence. A truly masterful first book.”  —Cole Swensen

What You Missed at the Lamdba Awards

Both [Terrence] McNally and Albee spoke of what it means to be a gay author. In accepting his award, Albee said, “I’m not a gay writer. I’m a writer who happens to be gay … I’ve written a number of plays with gay characters in them, but I have never written a play that could be considered a ‘gay play’ because I consider that a lessening of the creative act, to limit oneself to one’s own sexual practices as subject matter for one’s work.”

In the less then 48 hours elapsed since these words were spoken, I’ve already noticed a growing flurry of response to Albee’s commentary on his life, which by extension feels like a commentary on the Lambda Literary Foundation, and further by an extension a commentary on writing and identity–our associations, allegiances, and, ultimately, our communities.

I received in my inbox a letter from a colleague who bemoaned Albee’s stance, feeling in many ways slighted by this attitude. On the one hand, Albee’s comment seems unnecessarily sharp, more a criticism of others than a statement of self. The statement, while brief, is bloated with connotation and assumption; that is what I think provoke confused and angry responses to his words.

On the one hand, Albee is prioritizing his own identities, putting his creative identity ahead of his sexual identity. Albee seems to imply his goal is to transcend self in his writing–that being gay is no more important to him than being straight might be to another playwright. I don’t think anyone assumes that heterosexuals write more “legitimately” or more “honestly” about other heterosexual people or experiences. Or do they?

At its core, Albee’s position takes up an ongoing tension in the community of gay writers and writers who happen to be gay. Writers in the first camp don’t feel like homosexuality “happened” to them; instead, they may feel as if their sexuality provides a lens through which they view the totality of their lived experience. Writers in the second camp may not deny the lens is there, but might say the lens doesn’t limit or dictate what they look at through it. There may be a misperception that “gay writers” use only their own “gay experience” as subject matter, but this is untrue. Some writers who self-identify as gay writers may use their own experience, but I would hazard to say this ratio is probably equal to the number of heterosexual writers who use their own life as subject fodder. We don’t discount these straight writers, but we also don’t consider them brave or trailblazing, either. In either case, disparaging the choice probably doesn’t help.

The deep tension here, though, seems to be the break between gays who are fundamentally assimilationist and gays who are separatist. A gay writer is more likely to consider him or herself as separate from the dominant literary community–specifically from both heterosexual writing and heterosexual culture. A writer like Albee seems more assimilationist in approach, gaining–and then perhaps being scorned for gaining–wider appreciation for work that is generally more inclusive of different kinds of people. Almost in every case, a writer who takes Albee’s position has a greater chance of success in the literary world, partly because his or her stories will have a wider audience and partly because segments of that wider audience don’t want to encounter gay people in the work they read.

Futhermore, Albee is also ascribing to the word “gay” a simple idea–that being gay is a behavior, not an identity. Part of the gay rights movement has been dedicated to reserving the notion that what separates gays and straights is what happens under the covers (although, trust me, it’s different). But amplifying gay behavior into a gay identity is a fallacy. Our world is full of otherwise heterosexual people who, either temporarily or on an ongoing basis, love having same-sex sex partners. It doesn’t affect their overall identity to do so. This is because being gay is really something else. If it weren’t, I would spontaneously revert to being a heterosexual whenever I’m not having sex–which, honestly, is most of the time. If I were to consider the only gay thing in my life to be the sex I was having, obviously “gay identity” overall would take on a much smaller part of my overall identity. This may be the case for Albee. For those who perceive their gay identity as having wider repercussions, for touching on most or all aspects of their life, a perspective like Albee’s feels reductionist and oversimplified.

And this is perhaps the concerning implication of Albee’s statement: is he, by virtue of this attitude, contributing to the “recloseting” of homosexuality? By not taking a stake in being a gay writer, Albee, from some vantage points, is able to “pass.” In the entire history of oppression, those who pass are met with resistance and disdain from both the people like them who cannot or choose not to pass and those for whom they seek to pass. Writers like Albee ultimately end up alone, outside of the dominant community and unwelcome in their marginalized community. Aspiring to pass can be read as a desire not to be seen as gay, which is fundamentally the same as desiring not to be gay in the first place. Aspiring to pass, then, can be perceived as a rejection of this marginalized identity, a yearning to be accepted by the majority as “one of them,” undifferentiated–equal.

Are gay writers responding to this aspect of Albee’s speech? Yes. Is this implication troubling? Hells yes. Because of our current complicated moment, when gays and lesbians had their marriage rights revoked in California, when our rights are debated in front of us in coffeeshops and on news programs, it is very troubling. In fact, more than that, it almost seems antiquated. But perhaps this is because of our current moment, when LGBT writers who are invested in the furthering of our rights are the ones holding the microphones. It is unlikely that Albee’s words will turn back the clock (or, as a gay writer might say, “turn back time”). It’s interesting that Albee was introduced by McNally, who wrote one of the most incendiary gay plays ever (Corpus Christi), which was so controversial McNally received death threats after it premiered. There, in a nutshell, were two very unique approaches to work in American theater.

Gay literature/literature by gay people still has a lot of issues to work out in this area. I know this debate–are you a gay writer or writer who is gay?–is one that has come and gone a few times on blogs and elsewhere, but sincerely, these ideas bear repeating. I will never forget a moment in a workshop with C. D. Wright during my MFA program. One of my classmates, who was raised in South Carolina, asked C. D. Wright about how people try to classify her as a “Southern writer” and whether or not that label was helpful. Wright very plainly said when people want to classify you, “don’t sign up.” Don’t sign up. Don’t sign up. I keep repeating it to myself. It seems like she’s saying don’t classify yourself, but I don’t think that’s it.

I think she’s saying, “Don’t let other people determine who you are.”

And, fundamentally, that’s the debate here. Albee doesn’t want to sign up. There are those in our community who are desperate to place him in our community, and maybe that impulse is even part of what prompted him to receive this award right now. And it’s Albee’s option not to sign up.

I think Albee’s done nothing wrong in making this statement. It is his own prerogative to define himself, just as those with an opposing viewpoint want the same luxury, to define their creative identity as being inextricable from their queer identity. For every Michael Cunningham, there’s a Bret Easton Ellis. The argument on both sides is flawed: both camps want to limit the kind of definitions that can take place, but by doing so, they negate their own right to self-define. What we need to do is give each other permission to self-define, even when those definitions don’t jibe with our perception of the greater issues at stake. Albee’s stance won’t single-handedly roll back LGBT visibility or progress.

Imagine if we never knew Albee was gay. We wouldn’t have experienced any sense of loss. But what might have been in bad taste was saying this while accepting a prestigious award from an organization that fosters and promotes writing by LGBT artists.

But even then, no one wins a Lammy for being a good queer, right?

Regarding Recognition

This year’s Lambda Literary Award finalists in gay poetry are

darkacre, by Greg Hewett (Coffee House Press)
Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems, by James Schuyler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Pleasure, by Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press)
The Salt Ecstasies: Poems, by James L. White (Graywolf Press)
then, we were still living, by Michael Klein (GenPop Books)

There were 33 submissions for this award. Of the 33, 7 were either collected, selected, or otherwise edited volumes of work by one or more poets. And to my knowledge, only 1 of the submissions was a republication of an existing volume of work.

The critique I offer here is not of the Lambda Literary Foundation, the judges who selected these volumes, or of the writers I am going to discuss. Instead, I want to critique a practice in the literary community of awarding significant prizes, money, and recognition to volumes of work that I feel are somewhat counterproductive to recognize.

Of the 52 years the National Book Award has been given, it has recognized a Collected, Selected, Selected and New, or Complete poems of a single author 23 times, or slightly less than half of the time.

Of the 91 Pulitzer Prizes awarded for poetry, a volume of this type has received the award only 22 times (or 24% of awards).

Of the 35 National Book Critics Circle Awards, a volume of this type has received the award only twice, or 5% of the time.

Although it has often seemed to me on an anecdotal level that awards are more often granted to republications (in whatever form) of previously published work, this is really only the case when it comes to the National Book Award, which is almost dominated by this type of publication.

On one level, it seems unfair and a bit unethical to pit “the best” or “all” of an author’s body of work, when published as a single volume, against a new volume of perhaps more varied work by another writer. But then this gets down to what I feel are my core values relating to awards: that they should support the best contemporary work rather than the best career, and these are not often the same thing.

The poets who tend to win with their omnibus or selected collections tend to be canonized writers; that is to say, they are white men and women (but, historically men) who write in a specific mode, often the dominant mode of their era. It’s clearly not a stretch to see that work that interrogates the dominant mode or in other ways works against it is rarely recognized, even when it may be of higher quality.

Awards of this nature, by virtue of their naming and their scope, purport to recognize “the best” book published in a given year. By extension, “the best” book becomes, for many, an essential read. It becomes, over time, a cultural touchstone for our historical moment, our experience, our sensibilities, particularly when this award purports to speak for the body of artists and readers as a whole.

From the three examinations above, it’s clear that the various organizations seem to have different philosophies about what work to recognize. Are we to assume by these numbers that the National Book Award is, in intent and act, recognizing significant careers, while the National Book Critics Circle Award is more effective at recognizing individual works of merit? It would seem to be the case, and perhaps the balance these organizations bring to the “big 3” is meaningful for that reason.

I’m disappointed that James White’s The Salt Ecstasies is a finalist for the Lambda award this year. But not because the work does not have merit; in fact, this book was especially important to me when I first encountered it and I am absolutely thrilled it has reappeared as part of Mark Doty’s Re/View Series through Graywolf Press. However, the book was originally published in 1982 and, while it includes some supplemental writings (diary entries and an introduction from Doty), it is relatively unchanged from its original publication.

This book’s status as a finalist, more importantly, has supplanted another poet’s opportunity for recognition. Of the 33 submissions for the award, there were numerous other worthy volumes deserving of a place in the finalist circle. Poets whose careers would be enriched by this recognition. Poets who, over time, are likely to become more widely known and appreciated poets of our time.

It may be of interest to note that, to my eye, in no other Lambda Literary Award category this year has another republished or collected/selected/complete volume of an author’s work has been recognized as a finalist. Only in poetry.

I’m interested in knowing other perspectives on this–what are some arguments in favor of recognizing republished work for these awards? Please share.

The 2010 Lammys

I’m late posting my eyewitness account of this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. Chalk it up to the holiday weekend, which I spent with my Nofriendo Wii or watching the worst movie on Netflix ever, or my day in NYC (forthcoming), or the fact that Beau spontaneously decided Monday night was the night we should rotate our artwork and reorganize some parts of our apartment (which looks fab, by the way).

I got to the Lammys late because my publisher, Steve Berman, took the Lethe Press nominees (Dan Stone, Tom Cardamone, and me, and Beau) out to dinner at a very nice restaurant. We had a nice bottle of wine and Steve urged to me to try foie gras for the first time, which I did. Beau whispered to me, “What does it taste like?” I told him it was like that weird wine-cheese dip you can get–oddly salty and rich at the same time. He agreed with my assessment. It wasn’t bad, but probably not something I’ll ever crave, like Skittles, cigarettes, or a Craftsman-style home.

After dinner, we jetted over to the theatre just in time. I bumped, almost literally, into David Groff and said hi and then skittered into a seat last row center, next to the video camera. I felt like a seat filler at the Oscars, but my outfit was cuter.

The ceremony itself was long, but I valued it. The address by Larry Kramer is something I am so grateful to have experienced. He’s one of my heroes. I think he’s amazing, and to see him recognized with a Lambda honor and to hear him talk about his career and his forthcoming book was–without sounding corny–really special to me.

I won’t lie and say I was supercool when my category came up halfway through the event. But I will say that I wasn’t disappointed my book wasn’t chosen. Part of me thought I could win; the rest was sure I would lose to one of the other very talented writers in the pool, and was happy to lose to any of them. I hadn’t prepared anything to say, if that tells you anything. And neither had Benjamin Grossberg, whose book was honored, but he gave one of the cutest and most genuine comments of the whole night when he took the podium. Congratulations, Benjamin!

The other highlights for me were Rakesh Satyal’s long but inspired acceptance speech, sung to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (only at a gay event would this not only be tolerated but valued), and the woman who described how fate tried to ruin her day: “I woke up with a pimple under my nose. Then my first flight to New York was canceled. Then, on the flight I did take, the flight attendant spilled Diet Coke all over me. So you know what? Suck it, fate!” Awesome.

Beau and I each picked up a gift bag as we left, just like we were at the Oscars, except instead of gadgets and gizmos, our bags were full of books and grassroots calls to activism. My bag had the RuPaul beauty book in it, which I was really excited about because I also love some RuPaul (“Good luck, and don’t fuck it up” might be the best advice ever). Beau got four books, which made this whole experience oddly reminiscent of Christmas with my family, where gifts for Beau outnumber my own by 2:1.

We ended the night in our closet of a hotel room, eating delivery pizza while watching Zack and Miri Make a Porno on cable. It was perfect.

To be in good company

is humbling.

Lambda Literary Award Nominees

Gay Poetry
* Breakfast with Thom Gunn, by Randall Mann (University of Chicago Press)
* The Brother Swimming Beneath Me, by Brent Goodman (Black Lawrence Press)
* The First Risk, by Charles Jensen (Lethe Press)
* Sweet Core Orchard, by Benjamin S. Grossberg (University of Tampa Press)
* What the Right Hand Knows, by Tom Healy (Four Way Books)

Congratulations to my fellow nominees!