Grant Recipients C.D. Wright Award for Poetry Poetry 2023

Tonya M. Foster

Tonya M.Foster
  • 2023 C.D. Wright Award for Poetry
  • Poetry
  • Poet, Scholar, Professor
  • Born 1966, Bloomington, IL
  • Lives in Emeryville, CA
  • Additional Information

Artist Statement

“Where you from?” and “Where y’at?” are two turns of phrase that are ritually important in day-to-day encounters in my hometown of New Orleans. The two questions offer the opportunity to consider place—as location, as locale, as situation, as staging ground, as syllabic instruction, as social position, as sensibility, as state of being. My work grows out of an old and daily interest in place, and an interest in the seismic displacements and migrations that are part of Black diasporic configurations of home, of where, of am. My writing moves between poetry, prose, hybrid forms, and between registers—the scholarly, the lyric, the profane, and the vernacular. The work has consistently come out of the impulse to poetry, and out of an interest in place as shaped and understood through language. Ranges in form and register in the work are meant to draw different potential readers and thinkers into unexpected community. As a writer and as a scholar, I’m committed to tracking potential off-the-page ramifications for on-the-page arrangements and performances, and for realizing writing as an act of being/s in and of the world. What are the geographies of attention and action particular to experiences of diaspora and dispersion?

- December 2022


Tonya M. Foster is a poet, essayist, and a womanist/feminist scholar-in-development whose writing and research focus on poetry, poetics, ideas of place and emplacement; on intersections between the visual and the written; and on new configurations of the ekphrastic. Her research-informed work (re)imagines the poem and the poetic as sites/sights of encounters between material, conceptual, and sonic geographies in which each (cultural/historical/environmental/political/personal) space and form can be short-circuited and deterritorialized. Poetic and linguistic strategies of witness, resistance, and survival are central to her writing practice.

Foster is the author of A Swarm of Bees in High Court (Belladonna*, 2015), both a book-length poem and individual poems that are restrained and propelled by the syllabic constraints of the haiku in English. The work presses the reader to linger in moments of choice.

She has also written a bilingual chapbook, La Grammaire des Os (Éditions joca seria, 2016), and was coeditor of Third Mind: Teaching Creative Writing through Visual Art (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2002). Foster’s forthcoming publications include the poetry collection Thingifications (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2023); a chapbook (part of a manuscript in progress) AHotB; a two-volume compendium on the Umbra Writers Workshop; and an anthology of experimental creative drafts.

Foster’s poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day online journal, Entropy, the A-Line, Callaloo, Michigan Quarterly Review, boundary 2, Tripwire, Poetry Project Newsletter, Harvard Review, Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University Press, 2016), Letters to the Future: Black WOMEN/Radical WRITING (Kore Press, 2018), and elsewhere.

She has received a Lisa Goldberg Fellowship in Fiction & Poetry from the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (2020-2021), a Creative Capital Award (2020), and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry (2014). Foster has been supported by residencies at Black Space Residency, San Francisco, CA; the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), San Francisco, CA; Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA; and MacDowell, Peterborough, NH.

Foster is poetry editor at Fence, a member of The Writers Grotto in San Francisco, CA, and one of the cofounders of the Creative Writing forum at the Modern Language Association and serves as the George and Judy Marcus Endowed Chair in Poetry at San Francisco State University. She holds a B.A. from Tulane University, an M.F.A. from University of Houston, and a Ph.D. from the CUNY Graduate Center. Foster was raised in New Orleans and descends from a long line of Louisianians. She is the eldest of four daughters.

Reading from A Swarm of Bees in High Court (Belladonna, 2015), at The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, 2015.

Reading of “New Orleans Bibliography,” at Kelly Writers House, University of Philadelphia, PA, 2018.

Reading of “In Tongues,” at Levy-Gorvy Gallery, New York, 2017.

From “In the After (a poem in/on progress),” 2023.

“Hood Hauntings: (a poem in/on progress): Draft 2,” 2023.

“Libido: Draft 1,” 2023.

“Prologue’s Eden: Draft 1,” 2023.