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Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism

Logo that says Split This Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry and Activism

About the Award & Ceremony

The Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, made possible through the generosity of the CrossCurrents Foundation, recognized and honored a poet or poetry collective doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change. Our hope was that the prize, like our biennial poetry festival, would become an essential, enduring part of our legacy promoting the growing field of art and social activism on a national level. Also like the festival, the Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism was presented every other year.

Recipients received $3,000, a beautifully designed award, and extensive attention to their work. We celebrated the selected recipient and finalists at a gala ceremony and reading.

The name of the award is drawn from "Freedom's Plow," a poem by Langston Hughes:

The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.

The name also resonates with “Keep your hand on the plow, hold on,” from the Freedom Song, “Eyes on the Prize.”

Previous Recipients & Projects

Black and white image of Eliza Griswold. A white woman with a slight smile and slightly curled hair stands looking directly toward camera. She stands in front of a parking lot

The inaugural award was presented in 2013 to Eliza Griswold for her work gathering, translating, and publishing the folk poems of Afghan women, who  often write despite great risks to their personal safety. The inaugural ceremony also honored the four finalists: Jorge Agueta, poet and Director of Talleres de Poesia; Elana Bell, poet and educator with Seeds for Peace and Poets in Unexpected Places; Tim Z. Hernandez, poet and creator of "All They Will Call You"; Wang Ping, poet and Director of Kinship of Rivers. Photos and the video slideshow from the 2013 ceremony can be viewed at Blog This Rock, along with a write up on the evening.


Black and white photo of Mark Nowak, a white man with a beard and black slightly square shaped glasses looks toward camera.

The 2015 award was presented to Mark Nowak for his work fostering the voices of workers and bringing the stories and voices of workers to the center of poetry and public life. The three finalists, Black Poets Speak Out/Mahogany L. Browne, Jonterri Gadson, Amanda Johnston; John Lee Clark; and Bob Holman, were also celebrated with a multimedia presentation during the ceremony. Reflections on the ceremony, with photos and video, are also available on our blog.

A young latinx person stands with a cloudy sky in the background. Christopher is wearing a teal shirt, and has plug earrings. The 2017 award was presented to Christopher Soto (aka Loma) for his work supporting queer homeless youth and voices of undocumented poets through his #Undocupoet Campaign. The three finalists, Andrea Assaf, founding Artistic Director of Art2Action;  Francisco Aragón, Director of Letras Latinas; and JP Howard aka Juliet P. Howard, founder and curator of Women Writers In Bloom Poetry Salon, were also celebrated and presented during the ceremony. Reflections on the ceremony, with photos and video, are available on our blog.


logo for CrossCurrentsFoundation. Features the name of the foundation