Press Release
Apr 7, 2022

dg nanouk okpik Receives Poetry Prize


dg nanouk okpik Receives Poetry Prize

From the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

[CAMBRIDGE, MA] The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is awarding the May Sarton Award for Poetry to dg nanouk okpik. Named in honor of poet and Academy member May Sarton, a writer and teacher who encouraged the work of young poets, this award recognizes emerging poets whose work demonstrates both distinguished achievement and exceptional promise.

okpik (Iñupiaq-Inuit) won an American Book Award in 2012 with her debut collection Corpse Whale published by University of Arizona Press. Since then, her work has been included in several anthologies, including New Poets of Native Nations and Sling: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. Much of okpik’s poetry is set in Alaska, where she was raised. okpik holds a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts, an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast, and was a recipient of the Truman Capote Literary Trust Scholarship. Her forthcoming collection Blood Snow will be released this fall by Wave Books.

Upon receiving the award, okpik said “I thank the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. I would also like to thank May Sarton for being the exuberant, wonderful person and poet that she was. I aspire to continue her legacy as a student of words and poetry. I am also ever grateful to the countless teachers, mentors and peers who saw my potential and contributed to my growth as a writer of heart and soul.”

Poet, professor, and translator Arthur Sze, a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, nominated okpik for the Sarton Prize. He lauded her “unique flair for conflating the natural world of the arctic with the mythic world of creation.” The concluding lines of Warming feature okpik’s distinctive use of language, place, and purpose:

She/I construct/s a hole on the surface of a glacier formed by melting particles

of roe and pan reservoir dust from a shelter for the ice worms. Because the earth is

molding, burning, laughing, and purging its crust.

                Excerpt of “Warming” from Corpse Whale (2012)

“Awarding this prize to dg nanouk okpik honors the wonderful legacy of May Sarton, who cared deeply about supporting emerging American poets,” said David Oxtoby, Academy president. “dg nanouk okpik’s contribution to the canon of American poetry is important. Her fresh perspective, and her fearless, experimental form convey the power of her stories and of poetry itself. We are pleased to present this award, and we have no doubt that May Sarton would feel similarly.”

“okpik’s poetry is at once surprising and prophetic, ceremonial and disruptive,” said Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation), the current Poet Laureate of the United States and a member of the Academy. “dg’s knowing insights of her native Alaskan landscape and her precise language allow her, if momentarily, to remind readers that the earth is a living being, and that we mark our existence in it with our creations and our cultures.”

Upon being awarded the Sarton prize okpik shared three poems – “When White Hawks Come,” “A Glacial Oil World,” and “A Year Dot” – in a reading and said “When I think back to my beginnings as a writer, it’s amazing to me how I can now see and play with words and language. Finally, I would like to thank Creator for bringing me here and giving me this chance to see what I need to bring about in this world.”

The reading can also be found in Mixtape, the online gallery featuring poems, stories, songs, videos, and visual art contributed by members of the Academy and its recent Arts Commission.