Poetry Northwest’s James Welch Prize is awarded 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.
About Our Judge
In 2021, we are honored to have Diné poet Sherwin Bitsui judging the inaugural contest.
Sherwin Bitsui is the author of three collections of poetry, Dissolve, Flood Song, and Shapeshift. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award, an American Book Award, and the PEN Book Award. His poems have appeared in Narrative, Black Renaissance Noir, American Poet, The Iowa Review, LIT, and elsewhere. He is Diné of the Todích’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tlizílaaní (Many Goats Clan), and has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the Native Arts & Culture Foundation.
The prize is open to new, emerging, and established poets who are members of tribal nations within the United States and its trust territories (including American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Chamorros, and American Samoans). Only poets who have not published more than one book-length collection are eligible. Eligible contestants need not be previously published, but must be demonstrated (enrolled or community-recognized) members of their tribal nation. Previous first place winners of this prize are not eligible, but previous finalists are welcome to submit work.
About the Winners
The final judge selects two first-place winners. A small group of finalists is selected for print and/or online publication alongside the winner by writers and editors from our partner organizations and the editors of Poetry Northwest. Results are announced in May.
One of the two winning poets will be flown to Seattle to read with the 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), to read with the judge at the Beargrass Writing Retreat. These two trips will include travel, lodging, meals, and a very celebratory welcome for the winners.
Every entrant will receive a copy of Poetry Northwest featuring the prize-winning poems.
Previous Winners & Finalists
selected by Sherwin Bitsui
Kenzie Allen is a Haudenosaunee poet and transmedia artist. She is a descendant of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in Boston Review, Narrative, Best New Poets, The Iowa Review, and other venues.
Brendan Shay Basham
Do Not Drink from the Tailing Pond
Brendan Shay Basham (Diné), is the author of the forthcoming novel Swim Home to the Vanished (Harper, 2023). He received his MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Download a printable digital broadside featuring the two winning poems:
selected by poets from the board and advisory committee of In-Na-Po (Indigenous Nations Poets) with the editors of Poetry Northwest
Melanie Merle • Abigail Chabitnoy • Kalehua Kim • Shelbi Fitzpatrick • Annie Wenstrup • Rachel Johnson • Josie Valdez • Michael Wasson
POEMS BY 2021 WINNERS & FINALISTS APPEAR IN THE SUMMER & FALL 2021 ISSUE
The James Welch Prize is made possible by the generosity and participation of the following:
Including all who supported our successful 2021 Kickstarter campaign.
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