Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s announce Sumita Chakraborty as 2021 First Collection Poetry Prize winner

The Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast has announced the winner of the 2021 Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize, supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Sumita Chakraborty was announced as the winner for Arrow (Carcanet, 2020) during the Seamus Heaney Annual Poetry Sumer School, at a virtual award night on Thursday 1 July 2021.

Sumita Chakraborty is a poet, essayist, and scholar. She is Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry at the University of Michigan, where she teaches literary studies and creative writing. In 2017, she received a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and in 2018, her poem ‘And death demands a labor’ was shortlisted for a Forward Prize for Best Single Poem by the Forward Arts Foundation. Formerly, she was poetry editor of AGNI Magazine and art editor of At Length.

Speaking about her award, she said: “I grew out of all this / like a weeping willow / inclined to / the appetites of gravity’: as soon as I first read these lines from Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Kinship’ as an undergraduate, they became for me a meditation about surviving violence and paying attention to the new hungers and desires to which I had begun to lean, which is what Arrow is about. This award holds a doubly special place in my heart because my first published piece of academic scholarship was also about Heaney; his presence in both of these ‘firsts’ speaks to how very much his work has meant to me for a long time, and I thank the judges for this honor.”

This year’s judges were Professor Nick Laird, poet and Chair of Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre; and Dr Stephen Sexton, poet and lecturer in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre. They were joined by the poet, Elaine Feeney.

Speaking about the winning collection Professor Nick Laird, Chair of the judging panel commented: “Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty is a marvellous collection for both the maximalist and minimalist. Here are brief lyrics, prose essays, parables, lengthy lineated epics – and all of them given life with language stretched and pummelled into shape. Dealing in myth, astronomy, autobiography, philosophy, physics and metaphysics, Chakraborty possesses a singular outlook and the tone of a prophet.”

Dr Stephen Sexton added: “These wonderful collections not only demonstrate the talents and brilliances of their authors: they bring out the best in us as readers. Always we ought to try to appreciate a book on its own terms, and these books are gregarious and serious; grieving and wounded. It has been a pleasure to discuss and ponder and query these fine collections with my fellow judges, and, most of all, to come to admire their mythologies and emotional and historical landscapes.”

The Shortlist for the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize 2021 included:

The Station Before, by Linda Anderson (Pavilion Poetry, 2020)
Arrow, by Sumita Chakraborty (Carcanet, 2020)
Rose With Harm, by Daniel Hardisty (Salt Publishing, 2020)
Growlery, by Katherine Horrex (Carcanet, 2020)
Cannibal, by Safiya Sinclair (Picador Poetry, 2020)

The Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize is awarded annually to a writer whose first full collection has been published in the preceding year, by a UK or Ireland-based publisher. The winning writer receives £5,000 and is invited to participate in the Seamus Heaney Centre’s busy calendar of literary events.

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