Thomas Sayers Ellis

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Thomas Sayers Ellis (born Washington, D.C.) is an American poet, photographer and band leader. He previously taught as an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Bennington College in Vermont, and also at Sarah Lawrence College until 2012.


He was raised in Washington, D.C.[1] and attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. In 1988 he co-founded the Dark Room Collective in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an organization that celebrated and gave greater visibility to emerging and established writers of color.[2] He is the leader and a founding member of the band Heroes are Gang Leaders.[3] Ellis received his M.F.A. from Brown University in 1995.

Ellis is known in the poetry community as a literary activist and innovator,[4] whose poems "resist limitations and rigorously embrace wholeness."[5] His poems have appeared in magazines such as AGNI[6] Callaloo, Grand Street, Harvard Review, Tin House, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and anthologized in The Best American Poetry (1997, 2001, and 2010) and in Take Three: AGNI New Poets Series (Graywolf Press, 1996), an anthology series featuring the work of three emerging poets in each volume. He has received fellowships and grants from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Ohio Arts Council, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony.[7]

Ellis is a contributing editor to Callaloo. He compiled and edited Quotes Community: Notes for Black Poets (University of Michigan Press, Poets on Poetry Series).[8]

His first full-length collection, The Maverick Room, was published by Graywolf Press and won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares.[9]

The book takes as its subject the social, geographical and historical neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., bringing different tones of voice to bear on the various quadrants of the city.[10]

He is also the author of a chapbook, The Genuine Negro Hero (Kent State University Press, 2001), and the chaplet Song On (Wintered Press 2005).[11]


[13][circular reference]


  • The corny toys. Arrowsmith Press. 2018. ISBN 978-1-64255-027-6.
  • Skin Inc.: Identity Repair Poems. Graywolf Press. 2010. ISBN 978-1-55597-567-8.
  • The maverick room: poems. Graywolf Press. 2005. ISBN 978-1-55597-414-5.
  • The genuine Negro hero. Kent State University Press. 2001. ISBN 978-0-87338-704-0.
  • Thomas Sayers Ellis, Larissa Szporluk, Joe Osterhaus (1996). Askold Melnyczuk (ed.). Take three. Graywolf Press. ISBN 978-1-55597-239-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)



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