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The 2021 Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize is now open for submissions via Submittable through August 31, 2021.

Lions Don't Eat Us

Constance Quarterman Bridges
In one story from Aesop's Fables, the Roman slave Androcles befriends the emperor's lion prior to his trial and thereby survives certain death in the emperor's arena. Constance Quarterman Bridge's father tells this story to his children and says, My Babies, we're special people, lions don't eat us.

In this remarkable debut collection, Bridges chronicles her ancestry--part born out of slavery, part descended from Cherokee heritage—in poems marked by their devotion to family, survival, and the resilience of truth. Bridges' narratives are rendered from her mother's diaries and her own extraordinary research—from her great grandparents "jumping over the broom" in Civil War Virginia to her father's journey in the Great Migration northward in 1916—and the result is an unequivocally American story.

Selected and with an introduction by Sonia Sanchez, Lions Don't Eat Us is the 2005 winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, given to the best first collection by an African American poet.

"These poems radiate a tough-minded herstory/history that demands that we investigate, listen to, dance within, and defend their beauty."—Sonia Sanchez

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The winner of the 2005 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Lions Don't Eat Us introduces a fierce and wise new voice

About the Author

Constance Quarterman Bridges
Credit: Karen Peluso
Constance Quarterman Bridges is the 2005 winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for Lions Don't Eat Us. She retired from the U.S. Treasury Department in 1987, and began publishing her poems in magazines and anthologies, including The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry. She has won two Fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
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  • “This book is highly recommended for contemporary collections.”—Library Journal
  • “This is one impressive and mature first collection.”—Booklist
  • “In Lions Don’t Eat Us, Constance Quarterman Bridges gives readers the gift of the griot’s embodied eloquence, memory working to delicately braid the fibers of a family’s connected lives. The core of the African-American tradition has been waiting for this book.”—Afaa Michael Weaver
  • “When I finished reading Lions Don’t Eat Us, the first word that came to mind was dignity, Constance Quarterman Bridges’s own, and the dignity she confers on her cast of characters. She doesn’t try to startle us with the outrages of slavery and their aftermath; she assumes we know them. Instead she honors her ancestors by mediating their histories, and by giving them voice. Bridges has stories to tell, witnessing to do, and in this her first book she finds a language equal to her task that pretties up nothing while remaining lyrical and lovingly precise.”—Stephen Dunn


This book is made possible, in part, through the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a first-book award dedicated to the discovery of exceptional manuscripts by African American poets, and through the Jerome Foundation, which supports new works by emerging artists in New York City and Minnesota. It is also supported by the generosity of Graywolf Press donors like you.
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