The UK’s Women Poets’ Prize Names Its 2020 Winners

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The second round of the biennial Women Poets’ Prize ups its purse to £1,500 for each of three winners, a program created in honor of the late Rebecca Swift of The Literary Consultancy.

In Trafalgar Square, November 15. Image – iStockphoto: VV Shots

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Sophisticated, Complex Work’
It’s another week crowded with publishing and book award stories.

On Wednesday (November 18), the US National Book Awards have their winners’ ceremony, and on Thursday (November 19), the UK’s Booker Prize for Fiction is named.

This evening in London (November 17), the three winners of the Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets’ Prize have been named.

Alisha Dietzman, Natalie Linh Bolderston, and Warda Yassin are the winners of the prize.

Each of them receives £1,500 (US$1,988), up this year from the previous £1,000. They also get mentoring services and “creative opportunities” that include performance and bookbinding, as well as child-care assistance and chance to collaborate with prize sponsors.

  • Dietzman is based in Dundee and is a PhD candidate in divinity at the University of St. Andrews on a Fulbright. She was raised in the United States and central Europe and has had her work published in Ploughshares, Pleiades, and Pain. Jurors wrote that Dietzman’s poetry is “sophisticated, complex work, intriguing and original. There is a willingness to take on big topics, such as ethics and religion. Cinematic yet formally and thematically rigorous and interrogative, these poems challenge the reader to collaborate with them in their deep explorations.”
  • Bolderston is Vietnamese-Chinese-British and was a runner-up in the 2019 BBC Proms Poetry Competition. The jurors called Bolderston’s work, “wonderful formally inventive poems, full of power and rich language. Every line has impact. There is a bold experimental lyrical impulse here that is very beautifully crafted. Exciting, rich, ambitious and original, this could enrich the range of British poetics.”

Yassin is a Somali poet born in the UK and she’s a secondary school teacher in Sheffield who in October became that county’s poet laureate. Jurors praised Yassin’s work as having “a maturity and clarity that’s profound and deeply moving. We found so much to admire in these poems which feel vivid, fresh and passionately engaged, with a lyrical grace and dazzling image-making. This is a poet we’d love to see blossom.”

Honoring Rebecca Swift’s Memory

From left, Alisha Dietzman, Natalie Linh Bolderston, and Warda Yassin

This is a biennial award, as Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, conferred in memory of the editor, novelist, diarist, poet, and founder and director of The Literary Consultancy, Rebecca Swift. It was formed in 2018 in association with Faber and Faber, Bath Spa University, The Literary Consultancy, RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts], City Lit, Verve Festival, and the Poetry School. Today, FMcM Associates is also supporting the program with public relations work.

Rebecca Swift

The initial round of submissions this time ran to 734 works. Jurors Liz Berry, Malika Booker and Pascale Petit created a longlist of 30 from that first tranche, and those longlisted poets are eligible to access The Literary Consultancy’s “Being a Writer” offering, called a “creativity platform.”

The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is new to the backers’ list, offering voice coaching to the winners for their work in readers and other programming.

In this evening’s awards announcement, trustee Melanie Silgardo read from a posthumously published collection of Swift’s work, that collection titled A Suitable Love Object (Valley Press, October).

Applications for this award are open to female-identifying poets of all ages, at any stage in their development, emerging or established, who are resident in the UK/Northern Ireland. The jurors this time came in a bit below the anticipated 40 to 60 shortlisted titles before choosing the nine shortlistees and the eventual three winners.

The first winners of the prize, named in 2018, were Claire Collison, Nina Mingya Powles, and Anita Pati.

More on the program is here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on literary awards is here, and on poetry is here. More from us  on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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