While studying English in Oxford for the month of July, miles from home and in another world altogether, I was contacted by the University of Wales who announced that my new book of poems, Ex Nihilo, has been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.
There I was, sitting in my room in Exeter College, navigating the internet in my nearly 1000-year-old room, when lo and behold, the literary gods came to visit.
To be in Oxford studying at the Summer English Literature School, a competitive, international, intensive program for literary aficionados and hopeful academics like me, was a gift in itself. Reading Wordsworth’s poetry about Oxford while at Oxford was a dream made real only because I felt something had been confirmed within myself… that, somehow, spending 5 years of my young life in the academy studying literature and literary history into the wee hours and being misunderstood by most other majors had paid off by the mere fact that I was now living in the presence of those very authors who most people only read. Authors who changed the way we read the world. While in Oxford, much like my time in New York, I no longer felt I was put on this earth to merely read the greats… to flip the pages of Wordsworth, Woolf, and Dickens… I was somehow able to move into another dimension of understanding, and encounter them as people, somehow. Even if it should merely be their shadows, I was given the means to follow in their footsteps not from a distance (which is also part of the condition of being an academic) but in my very existence as a writer today, and now, on a more eternal plane.
As if that sublime experience were not enough, I was told in the middle of my trip that Ex Nihilo had been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize for poetry, coincidentally sponsored by the University of Wales (Oxford’s friendly neighbour). Dylan Thomas lived in England and New York, spent many hours traversing my old Greenwich neighbourhood, and indeed spent his last hours at St. Vincent’s at 11th and 7th Avenue, just around the corner from my old apartment on 13th. These dark resonances aside, he has given me so much light… or put more aptly, the will to rage against the dying of the light, and by so doing, learn to challenge the dark. His writing speaks of a man unequipped for the trivial inconsistencies of youth; and yet, as a quintessential young writer, exemplified a style of writing always immediate, always happening, and so vibrantly alive that it makes sense that such a prize should be in his name. For some reason, writers who become the heroes of their age are somehow always beyond their years.
Launched in 2006, the Dylan Thomas Prize is the biggest award for young writers in the world, an international literary award aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide and given to the best published literary work in the English language written by an author under 30. I am in the youngest age range of the bunch, and along with the great Eleanor Catton, representing Canada. The panel, chaired by Hay Literature Festival founder Peter Florence, has selected a longlist of 16 literary works, which includes poetry, novels and a play. Spanning four continents, the selected writers hail from as far afield as Canada, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa and Somalia, along with five from the UK.
The last two winners of the Dylan Thomas Prize, Nam Le in 2008 and Rachel Trezise in 2006, have really seen their writing careers take off since receiving the award. This means that regardless of whether I win the £30,000 or not, in a sense I feel like I’ve already won something very significant. I am, of course, crossing my fingers and reading Thomas poems aloud nearly everyday.
Nobody goes into poetry for money, and for this reason, I accept this nomination with an open heart and hearty thank you to everyone who has extended their congrats. I’ve gotten emails from writers who I am inspired by, which is enough to make me melt with happiness. I’ve also gotten amazing notes from past teachers and friends which are incredibly meaningful, and also gifts in themselves.
For information on the award, and my nomination, here are a few links:
Ex Nihilo is making its way into various bookstores across Canada. It looks like we have a U.S. distributor in the works as well, so to my American folks, do stay tuned!
You can order Ex Nihilo from the Frontenac House website (www.frontenachouse.com/order), which will lead you to the Alpine Book Peddlers website (www.alpinebookpeddlers.ca). Ex Nihilo is also available through Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) and Chapters/Indigo.ca (www.chapters.indigo.ca). If not in stock, it might be a couple weeks or so.
In other news, the official launch of Ex Nihilo is September 22, 2010, 7 p.m. This is the official Dektet 2010 launch in Toronto – all the 10 winning poets published by Frontenac have been invited from across the country to read. This is the big one, ladies and gentleman, and as Toronto is my hometown I hope to see your dear faces there! I will have books for sale. The launch is happening at Revival (www.revivalbar.com), 783 College Street, 7–9 p.m., on Wednesday, September 22. See you there!
With love and light,