Kayleb Candrilli

Award-winning poet Kayleb Candrilli chronicles the transgender experience in their work.
Award-winning poet Kayleb Candrilli chronicles the transgender experience in their work.

Kayleb Candrilli is an award-winning poet and author with more than 100 published works, many of which have won such prizes as the Britany Noakes Poetry Award and the Pamet River Prize.

Mostly recently, however, Candrilli was selected from among thousands of applicants as a 2017 Lambda Literary finalist for What Runs Over, a poetry collection and memoir about life in rural Pennsylvania as a young transgender boy.

Lambda Literary is the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature, and Candrilli was one of only five finalists for transgender poetry.

“I’m really proud that the book is being seen in the light I always intended,” Candrilli said. “It is a book about growing up in rural America while queer, and that’s a narrative I needed to see when I was younger. I feel heartened and excited that my book now makes up a sliver of this growing ‘trans canon.’”

Though Candrilli was interested in writing since childhood, they didn’t decide to write until they were 18.

“I went and saw Sister Spit, which was this traveling group of queer artists and writers,” Candrilli said. “I was blown away by the sheer possibility they demonstrated, and by seeing people like me on stage—commanding attention and taking up all the space they deserved.”

Now, Candrilli largely writes as a way to work through childhood trauma and abuse; however, they are also deeply invested in writing triumphant pieces that share a narrative of joy so that other young transgender readers can see a hopeful future.

“So often the trans experience is reduced to trauma (of which there is so much),” Candrilli said. “I want to provide some representation that isn’t mired exclusively in pain. It’s so important that younger readers can read poems in which the speaker is transgender and feels fulfilled and comfortable in their body.”

Candrilli’s upcoming book, tentatively titled All the Gay Saints, is especially intended to showcase the joys of the transgender experience.

“The best part of being a writer, so far, is having people reach out and let me know the work has helped them, that it has given them a new or useful way to walk through the world,” Candrilli said. “Often the people who reach out to me are trans, and the safety and well-being of other trans folks means more to me than I can express.”

2020 Update

Candrilli was the recipient of the Whiting Award in Poetry in 2019. In 2020, they published their second book of poetry, All The Gay Saints, which won the 2018 Saturnalia Book Prize, selected by poet Natalie Diaz. They have been or will be published in POETRY, Puerto del Sol, and Booth, along with many other publications.

In 2021, Candrilli will publish their third book, Water I Won’t Touch.