James Welch Prize

James Welch Prize: An award for indigenous poets

Starting in 2021, Poetry Northwest’s James Welch Prize will be awarded every winter for two outstanding poems, each written by an Indigenous U.S. poet. The prize is named for Blackfeet and Gros Ventre writer James Welch, whose early poems were featured in Poetry Northwest and who went on to become one of the region’s most important writers.

Poetry Northwest is launching a fundraising campaign this December in order to keep the Welch Prize sustainably fee-free for Native writers over the next five years. Most prizes are pay-to-play: writers pay fees, and those fees then create the cash purse that’s paid out to the winner. Our goal with this 3-week Kickstarter campaign is to raise $10,000 that will go towards paying for the cash purse ($1000 each to two poets every year) for the next five years. Essentially, folks who donate to the campaign are paying the prize fees of Native writers submitting to our contest and, at the same time, creating the cash purse for the winners. None of this money will go into the pockets of Poetry Northwest—it is entirely for the winning writers. Any money that we raise over our goal amount will be donated to In-Na-Po, a new Indigenous poets organization whose partnership we are so grateful for.

This project draws from the best of what we do as a magazine and a community: collaborating and bringing together people and organizations in order to pool our overlapping missions and focus on projects none alone could accomplish. The James Welch Prize will bring together the resources of Seattle Arts & Lectures, Hugo House, the Beargrass Writing Retreat, In-Na-Po, and others to create a meaningful prize with publication, readings, and honoraria for the winning Native poets. We could not be more excited to continue the work of what has become a central mission of our publication: to champion Indigenous poets and provide another platform for their outstanding work

The Prize

The prize will be awarded to two first place winners every year, each receiving $1000 and a trip to Seattle or Missoula to read with the contest’s annual judge.

Poetry Northwest is partnering with Seattle Arts & Lectures, Hugo House, and the Beargrass Writing Retreat to support this prize. One of the two winning poets will be flown to Seattle to read with the contest’s judge as part of the fall Seattle Arts & Lectures series at Hugo House. The other winning poet will be flown to Missoula, MT (the city James Welch called home for many years), to read with the contest’s judge at the Beargrass summer conference. These two trips will include travel, lodging, meals, and a very celebratory welcome for the winners. Finally, both winners, as well as the runners-up, will have their poems published in Poetry Northwest.

Contest Guidelines

Guidelines will be available in early 2021.


In-Na-Po, a new Indigenous poets organization, will also be a partner with Poetry Northwest for the inaugural year of this prize. A team of poets from the In-Na-Po board and advisory committee will screen the initial contest entries before passing a group of finalists on to our guest judge, who will be an accomplished Indigenous poet. This year we are honored to have Diné poet Sherwin Bitsui judging the inaugural contest.