2018 New Issues Poetry Prize
Cathy Park Hong, Judge
“From the first poem in Mistress, Chet’la Sebree’s voice gripped me and held on. Sebree’s vision of the persona poem is startling: the narrator is both Sally Hemings and a woman in the present merged to a consciousness un-nesting the ‘holler hidden in her.’ Like Kara Walker’s murals, Sebree runs from—and faces—the dark looming historical forces of miscegenation, enslavement, and the abjection of the black female body. The ghost of Sally Hemings as aberration, as mistress, determines the speaker’s id; tugs at her solitary fantasies; a violent erotic invasion that she inverts and turns on its head with lines etched in rage. Sebree’s language is a scythe that glints wildly. Mistress is truly an astonishing, unforgettable debut.”
—Cathy Park Hong
Born and raised in the Mid-Atlantic, Chet’la Sebree is a poet, editor, and educator. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Guernica, and Pleiades, in addition to other journals and anthologies. She was the 2014-2016 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University and has received fellowships from Hedgebrook, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Richard H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. She holds an MFA from American University.