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Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism 2017 - Recipient, Finalists, and Honorable Mentions

    Logo of the Freedom Plow Award with Split This Rock at the top of the image in dark red, a head of wheat on the left in black, the name of the award in large letters in the middle of the image and accented by two dark red stars around the bottom phrase

Split This Rock is proud to announce the recipient for the 2017 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, Christopher Soto (aka Loma)! This year’s finalists include a powerful group of poets who integrate poetry into movements for social justice and bring poetry directly to the center of public life.

About the Award & Ceremony

The award, made possible through the generosity of the CrossCurrents Foundation, recognizes and honors a poet or poetry collective doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change. The prize, like our biennial poetry festival, is an essential, enduring part of our mission to promote the growing field of art and social activism on a national level. Also like the festival, the Freedom Plow Award is presented every other year.

Recipients are awarded $3,000 and receive extensive attention to their work.

The 2017 Freedom Plow Recipient: Christopher Soto (aka Loma)

Image of Christopher Soto with fairly short dark hair, wearing a green stripped shirt buttoned all the way to the top, looking seriously towards the camera, and standing in front of a cityscape in the daytime.

Christopher Soto aka Loma (originally from Los Angeles) is a poet based in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) and the editor of Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books, 2018). In 2016, Poets & Writers honored Soto with the "Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writers Award." He frequently writes book reviews for the Lambda Literary Foundation and his poems, reviews, interviews, and articles can be found at The Nation, The Guardian, The Advocate, Los Angeles Review of Books, American Poetry Review, Tin House, and more.

Soto's work has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese. He has been invited to speak at universities and campuses across the country. He is currently working on a full-length poetry manuscript about police violence and mass incarceration. Soto cofounded the #Undocupoets Campaign and worked with Amazon Literary Partnerships to establish grants for undocumented writers. He received his MFA in poetry from NYU. Visit Soto's website for more information.

Check out Split This Rock's interview with Soto at BlogThisRock!




Photo of a Latino man with silver glasses and wearing a light blue shirt smiling into the camera with a grassy hill and homes behind himFrancisco Aragón / Letras Latinas, the literary arts program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame

The depth and breadth of Aragón’s work to support Latinx poetry and poets is vital and enduring. Split This Rock is particularly excited by PINTURA : PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis, a multi-year initiative that encourages new Latino writing inspired by art, above all a Smithsonian American Art Museum traveling exhibit titled 'Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art.' The project includes ekphrastic writing workshops; inviting writers to engage with the exhibit; and partnering with literary journals to publish portfolios of ekphrastic writing. Letras Latinas blog, with its insightful interviews with Latinx poets, all available for free, is an inestimable resource for poets. Aragón’s work leverages the university’s resources on behalf of a community of poets viewed as marginal by many publishers, critics, and scholars. A sample of Aragón’s poetry can be found at his website by clicking the Poetry link. Read our interview with Francisco on Blog This Rock.


Andrea Assaf / Art2Action

Besides the power and energy of this organization, what struck Split This Rock was a conscious balance between using poetry to tell the stories of Iraq and Iraqis in the war and Arab-American experiences broadly, and the way Art2Action uses poetry as a medium of healing for Iraq war veterans. Producing multimedia and multi-genre performances like the spoken-word opera, Eleven Reflections on September, the organization offers audiences an opportunity to sit with the meanings of September 11, 2001 both in Arab-American communities and our shared history. Read our interview with Andrea on Blog This Rock





JP Howard aka Juliet P. Howard / Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon

What strikes us about Howard’s projects is that Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon is not just a workshop, but a support system for a community of mostly queer women of color. Howard is a non-stop force for promoting poetry by queer women of color and poets who write it; for instance, in her guest editor role for the issue of Sinister Wisdom Journal, BLACK LESBIANS: WE ARE THE REVOLUTION! Howard’s poetry can be found at her website. Read our interview with JP on Blog This Rock.






We owe tremendous thanks to this year’s contest judges Holly Bass, Dawn Lundy Martin, and 2015 Freedom Plow Recipient Mark Nowak. We gave them a difficult choice among strong finalists, and we deeply appreciate their generosity and discernment.



We were blown away by the quality and number of nominations for this year’s award. The strength and variety of these poets and projects compelled us to bring attention to this handful of poets and collectives working in innovative ways at the confluence of poetry and social activism. These projects made winnowing this field down to our finalists difficult work indeed. We hope to see their names again as future nominees.

Jennifer Bartlett | With Sheila Black, Bartlett co-founded the AWP disability caucus, which has been essential to leading AWP to improve accessibility. She is also the founder of the non-profit, Zoeglossia, an organization for poets with disabilities which will host its first conference in San Antonio in 2018. She edited Issue 25 of Typo magazine, showcasing work by writers with disabilities, and co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. She has advocated for universities and writing programs to consciously include writers, students, and professors with disabilities.

Beau Beausoleil / Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here | This multi-year project began as a response to the March 5, 2007 car bombing on the bookselling street in Baghdad, Al-Mutanabbi Street. AMSSH has been organizing exhibitions globally since and presently have about 600 participating members from over 20 countries. Each exhibition features poets from the Middle East and US and gave birth to the anthology, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here in 2012 with PM Press. Now operating as a kind of festival, most recently a 3 month project in Washington, DC, AMSSH responds to attacks on shared cultural space, free speech, and the free exchange of ideas that are essential to cross-cultural understanding. At the heart the project is solidarity with the people of Iraq, the birthplace of poetry.

Aziza Barnes & Nabila Lovelace / The Conversation | The Conversation is a literary festival that places the question of a Black Mecca at its center. Traveling through different cities across the American South, The Conversation brings writers of color together to explore their relationship with geography and race and to establish an interregional conversation on blackness. Held for the first time in 2016, The Conversation hosted 19 fellows across three cities, bringing workshops, readings, and craft talks. It culminated in a larger festival in New Orleans, which gathered 20 additional professional writers.

Fatimah Asghar, Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels, Danez Smith & Jamila Woods / Dark Noise Collective | These poets use their art as a site for radical truth telling. They explore themes of identity, intersectionality, trauma, and healing in accessible forms without sacrificing deep engagement with craft. Particularly notable is their project #GetFreeWrites, which so far has offered both prompts and a syllabus of writing on police brutality and racist violence, and PENS UP! which encourages writers to offer writing (their own and others’) to support activist organizations working to combat police violence across the country and includes a list of organizations in several states that do this work.

Eve Ewing & Nate Marshall / Crescendo Literary Arts | In their first year, this last summer, Crescendo partnered with the Poetry Foundation to create the Poetry Incubator, a retreat for emerging writers to organize and network. They also created the first Chicago Poetry Block Party, in the Bronzeville neighborhood to bring poetry and performances and workshops to the the community. Both projects model the belief that artists are accountable to the communities they come from and that those communities can be enlivened by that art.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs / Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind & The Mobile Homecoming | Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind is a community school based in Durham, NC, and active in 143 countries. The project starts from the premise that knowledge about the insights, literatures, and practices of black feminism and the transformative interconnection among black feminists is as crucial as learning to read in the immediate aftermath of chattel slavery in the US. The Mobile Homecoming is a project dedicated to “collecting and amplifying the stories of black women, transmen, and genderqueer visionaries who have been refusing the limits of heteronormativity and opening the world up by being themselves in the second half of the 20th century.”

Caits Meissner | Caits Meissner has a long history in community arts, developing programs for organizations such as Tribeca Film Institute, Urban Arts Partnership, The Facing History School, and The Lower Eastside Girls Club. She has taught and consulted for over 15 years in organizations and community spaces ranging across social justice and youth programs, spaces of incarceration, universities, public schools, and needle exchanges. Most recently, Meissner has re-defined the literary tour for her latest book by bringing her readings and collaborative workshops to adult and youth detention facilities across the country.

Dunya Mikhail | Dunya Mikhail returned to Iraq after 20 years to witness the the mass graveyards in the north of Iraq and to meet with the women who escaped ISIS. Her interviews with the survivors resulted in a new hybrid-genre manuscript, forthcoming in 2017. More about her at the poet’s website.

Brionne Janae, Taylor Johnson, Olivia Kate Cerrone, Andrew Dunn and Cheryl Buchanan  /  Writers Without Margins | This group of writers and facilitators lead free poetry workshops at homeless shelters and re-entry programs in Boston. Writers Without Margins works to take literature beyond its conventional limits in the context of a city with extreme income inequality and no fewer than 54 institutions of higher learning. The group publishes an annual literary journal and exhibits workshop participants’ poetry in public spaces in order to focus attention on many of the urgent social matters of this era.

Previous Awards

Eliza Griswold, 2013

Mark Nowak, 2015

Split This Rock is grateful to all the poet-activists who put their sweat and imagination to work for a more poetically informed and socially just world.