Nicole Sealey was born in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her family moved to Apopka, Florida, when she was eight. In college, Sealey majored in both English and Africana studies, and she earned an MLA in Africana studies from the University of South Florida. In 2005, she began regularly attending poetry workshops at Cave Canem Foundation, where Patricia Smith was one of her mentors. Although she already had a full-time career, she found herself drawn more and more to the prospect of a career in poetry. In 2012, at the age of 32, Sealey made the leap and enrolled in New York University’s MFA program in creative writing.
Sealey’s poetry debut, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named (2016), won the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize and was published by Northwestern University Press. Ordinary Beast, her full-length collection with Ecco, followed in 2017. Ordinary Beast was a finalist for the PEN Open Book and Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, as well as being selected as NPR’s most anticipated poetry book of 2017 and a top-ten fall 2017 poetry book by Publishers Weekly. The collection is a free-ranging tour de force across subject and form, with examinations of race, gender, love, art, religion, and pop culture communicated in both free and formal verse.
Sealey’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, The New York Times, The Best American Poetry 2018 and 2021, and elsewhere. She has been a fellow at Cave Canem, the Poetry Project, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, CantoMundo, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her other honors and awards include a 2019 Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, a Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review, a Daniel Varoujan Award, a Poetry International Prize, and grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation and Jerome Foundation. She guest-curated Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series in summer 2020. Sealey is the originator of the Sealey Challenge, an online campaign begun in 2017 that encourages members of the literary community to read a full poetry book or chapbook every day in the month of August.
The executive director of Cave Canem from 2017 to 2019, Sealey has also served as the 2018–2019 Doris Lippman Visiting Poet at the City College of New York and a 2019–2020 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. She currently teaches at Boston University and in New York University’s low-residency MFA writers’ workshop in Paris, and she is the 2020–2021 Distinguished Visiting Poet at Syracuse University’s MFA program in creative writing. Sealey lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Photo by Jean Coleman.