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Robin Coste Lewis

National Book Award-winning poet, author of Voyage of the Sable Venus

2015 NBA Poetry Award Winner: Robin Coste Lewis
  • About Robin Coste Lewis

    Robin Coste Lewis is the former Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California. Her service as Poet Laureate of Los Angeles focused on truth and reconciliation projects dealing with the city’s history. Her poetry debut, Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf, 2015) was honored with the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry—the first poetry debut to do so since 1975, and the first debut to win in poetry by an African American.

    Voyage of the Sable Venus is a meditation on the black female figure through time. In the center of the collection is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. The collection presents a new understanding of biography and self and is a thrilling testament to the complexity of race—a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.

    Her next book, To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness, is a genre-bending exploration of poetry, photography, and human migration to change the way we see art, the museum, and the Black female figure. To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness is the winner of the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection.

    Lewis is a Cave Canem fellow, a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and a Ford Foundation Art of Change fellow. She received her MFA in poetry from NYU, an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard University’s Divinity School, and a PhD in poetry and visual studies from the University of Southern California. A finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Hurston/Wright Award, as well as the International War Poetry Prize, Lewis has published her work widely in various journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times, among others. She has taught at Wheaton College, Hunter College, Hampshire College, and the NYU Low-Residency MFA in Paris. Currently, she is a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Southern California and a 2019 Guggenheim fellow. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.

  • Speaking Topics

    Race and the Erasure

    This lecture looks at the history of poetic erasure within the context of race and post colonialism.

    Boarding the Voyage

    Based on the research she did for Voyage of the Sable Venus, in this craft talk Robin Coste Lewis speaks about the pleasures and horrors of the archive, art history, and race.

  • Video

  • Praise for Robin Coste Lewis


    Robin was a transcendent speaker—of course–and we had a great turn-out and a wonderful response from students and faculty. It was a huge lift to our community here. Please extend our warmest thanks to Robin for her generosity.

    Jennifer Jahner, California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

    Words cannot express the impact that Robin’s speech had on all of us and our community this evening! We will be endlessly grateful for all you did to help make that happen.

    Spoleto Festival USA

    Robin gave a marvellous reading yesterday -very moving, interesting, fired up and engaging – then dealt brilliantly with some good questions afterwards. She managed to step outside the Zoom confines, somehow, and made us all feel very PRESENT: really, it was remarkable. Everyone ’there’ felt very privileged and grateful.

    Johns Hopkins University

    Robin’s visit was a tremendous success! Students and faculty all came away inspired. Robin is a dynamic speaker and reader, and students found it easy to relate to her and inspiring to listen to her thoughts on poetry.

    Windward School

    All who attended seemed to be enthralled. “Captivating” and “entertaining” were two words I heard frequently describe the reading. There was a palpable energy the audience carried with them out of the theater and into the night. I also want to note how successful the student session was. Students who attended her craft talk and Q&A all said they learned so much from her. Robin has an engaging, generous spirit that drew the typically-bashful guests out of their shells.

    Princeton University

    Robin brought the house down at Otis last night. She read her gorgeous writing with so much wattage–the students were floored. She answered their questions with tremendous thought and care. Please let her know how much we appreciate the time she spent with us.

    Otis College of Art and Design
  • Books by Robin Coste Lewis

  • Media About Robin Coste Lewis

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and Availability

  • 212 572-2013
  • Robin Coste Lewis travels from Los Angeles, CA

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