The Poetry and Poetics Colloquium, in conjunction with Northwestern University Press, is delighted to announce the two winners of the fifth annual Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize: Mayda Del Valle and Jenny Xie. Both Del Valle’s and Xie’s manuscripts will be published by Northwestern University Press in Fall 2016 with a planned launch party at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, IL in January 2017.
Del Valle’s The University of Hip-Hop is a love letter to the city of Chicago, more specifically a particular moment in Chicago, of growth and development, coming of age, of learning how to construct a new self from old world customs and new school traditions. It is a meditation on movement and migration, and asks, what does it mean to leave home, how to take home with you, and even how to build a new home elsewhere?
Mayda Del Valle has been described by the Chicago Sun Times as having “a way with words. Sometimes they seem to flutter and roll off her lips. Other times they burst forth like a comet streaking across a nighttime sky.” A proud native of Chicago’s South Side, she appeared on 6 episodes of Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on HBO and was a contributing writer and original cast member of the Tony Award winning Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Oprah’s “O” Magazine selected her as one of 20 women for their first ever “O Power List”, a group of visionary women making a mark in business, politics, and the arts. In May of 2009 she was invited to perform at the White House for President Obama and the First Lady. She is currently Program Director with the poetry-based non-profit youth organization Street Poets Inc., and is also a dancer and vocalist with the Los Angeles based Afro-Puerto Rican bomba group Cunyá.
Xie’s Nowhere to Arrive takes as its subjects the whiplash of travel, the shuttling between disparate places and climes, and an unremitting sense of dislocation. These poems court the tension between the familiar and the foreign, between the self as distinct and the self as illusory. They look plainly at the startling strangeness of varied landscapes and mindscapes, and interrogate a state of unrootedness—one thrown into relief by the speaker’s years abroad in Southeast Asia. On a formal level, the poems in Nowhere to Arrive make room for the unsaid and the inarticulable. Here, we have a vocabulary of silence alongside stark imagistic juxtapositions. These poems celebrate compression and the force of paratactic constructions. Attentiveness and concentration emerge as virtues; the speaker surveys the vast territory of the present with a wakeful gaze.
Jenny Xie teaches writing at NYU. Her work appears in Tin House, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Literary Review, Oxford Poetry, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She resides in Brooklyn.
In 2015, Nicole Sealey was the winner of the fourth annual Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize. Her manuscript, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, was published by Northwestern University Press in Fall 2015 with a celebration at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, featuring Chris Abani, Tatsu Aoki and his Reduction Quartet, and members of the Drinking Gourd Prize Committee. The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named is a debut as luminous and unforgiving “as the unsparing light at tunnel’s end,” to quote the poet herself.
In 2014, Willie Lin was the winner of the third annual Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her manuscript, Instructions for Folding, was published by Northwestern University Press with a celebration at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, featuring Chris Abani, Tatsu Aoki and his Reduction Quartet, and members of the Drinking Gourd Prize Committee. Instructions for Folding is unflinching in accounting for the daily cruelties of our lives, the melancholy of it. The poems ask us to succumb to the grace of the fold, the redemption of paper, the mapping and charting of ink and joy.
In 2013, Rodney Gomez was the winner of the second annual Drinking Gourd Chapbook prize. His manuscript, Mouth Filled with Night, was published by Northwestern University Press with a celebration at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago on January 30th, 2014. Using many familiar emblems of Mexican American identity, Mouth Filled with Night repeatedly subverts expectations while intensifying the dilemmas of affiliation. These poems run beyond more conventional ideas of agency, identity and experience, creating a new — and newly invigorated — imaginative space.
In its inaugural year, the prize volume, Kristiana Rae Colón’s promised instruments, was introduced by renowned poet Ed Roberson. Roberson launched the series by publishing an accompanying chapbook of new work, entitled Closest Pronunciation. These tandem chapbooks were published in January, 2013 by Northwestern University Press. The Poetry and Poetics Colloquium hosted a launch event at the Poetry Foundation featuring Giordano Dance on Thursday, January 31st, 2013. The prize committee would also like to recognize finalist Andrew Colarusso for the distinctive and innovative form of his manuscript, Traum.
The Drinking Gourd Prize is a first book award for poets of color. Showcasing the work of emerging poets of color, volumes in the Drinking Gourd series are selected by a panel of distinguished minority poets and scholars and feature a short introduction by a senior minority writer. This is an annual award combining the efforts of Northwestern’s Poetry and Poetics Colloquium and Northwestern University Press in celebrating and publishing works of lasting cultural value and literary excellence.
To view full videos and photo highlights from two years of Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize launch events, click here.
Visit our submission page in fall 2015 for details about the 2015-2016 Drinking Gourd competition.
Nicole Sealey, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named
At turns humorous and heartbreaking, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named explores in both formal and free verse what it means to die, which is to say, also, what it means to live. In this collection, Sealey displays an exquisite sense of the lyric, as well as an acute political awareness. Never heavy-handed or dogmatic, the poems included in this slim volume excavate the shadows of both personal and collective memory and are, at all points, relentless. To quote the poet herself, here is a debut as luminous and unforgiving “as the unsparing light at tunnel’s end.”
Willie Lin, Instructions for Folding
In one of the poems in Instructions for Folding, Willie Lin writes, “it seemed you were away but not beyond language.” And accordingly, the voice in these poems is sometimes fervid, sometimes wry, moved to speech by the specific desire to speak to someone. The poems often progress associatively, following a kind of lyric logic of involution, disruption, and juxtaposition. They rehearse the work of learning the heft and shape of memories. They revel in failures and take pleasure in mourning. They bristle with narrative suggestiveness, weaving an austere music against a scrim of love, loneliness, secrets, and elation. Instructions for Folding is unflinching in accounting for the daily cruelties of our lives, the melancholy of it. The poems ask us to succumb to the grace of the fold, the redemption of paper, the mapping and charting of ink and joy.
Rodney Gomez, Mouth Full of Night
The winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize, Rodney Gomez’s collection Mouth Filled with Night employs familiar emblems of Mexican American identity to repeatedly subvert expectations while intensifying the dilemmas of affiliation. The poems run beyond more conventional ideas of agency, identity, and experience, creating a newly invigorated imaginative space. As a collection, Mouth Filled with Night gains particular momentum–a pitched anxiety that slowly grows throughout the volume–to create a poetic experience unique to the chapbook form.
Kristiana Rae Colón, promised instruments
Taking its cue from Toni Morrison’s declaration that “language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names,” Kristiana Rae Colón’s promised instruments stitches its own definitions for what is granted, what is surrendered, what is pilfered, and what is reclaimed. Her poems plumb the problem of women’s mental health, their sexuality and gender identity, and their ability to make choices about sexual activity. With piercing musicality and disarming vulnerability, promised instruments invites its readers to interrogate their own complicity in these issues and to share in the healing process.
Kristiana Rae Colón is a poet, playwright, actor, and educator living in Chicago. She has been featured on the HBO television series Def Poetry Jam and on WBEZ’s Chicago Public Media. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize honoring the best writing published in small presses, and it has been anthologized in Not a Muse (2009), Best of the Web 2010, and the upcoming collection Chorus: A Literary (Re) Mixtape, an anthology of poetry by young people edited by Saul Williams and Dufflyn Lammers.
Ed Roberson, Closest Pronunciation
Northwestern University Press is honored to publish Ed Roberson’s Closest Pronunciation. Here is a teacher of poets studying his own assignments, questioning and seeking the generative capacity in looking at and seeing things that ends in the realization of a poem. In a line from the brief poem “Night Writing,” from which the chapbook draws its title, he writes, “The word closest in pronunciation / To an ambulance’s siren is ‘wrong.’ ” The collection as a whole gives voice, often quiet but always profound, to many things overlooked and neglected in culture, nature, and everyday life.
Ed Roberson is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently To See the Earth Before the End of the World (2010), which was a finalist for the 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and one of two runners-up for the 2011 Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Award. His other honors include the 2008 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and the 2011 Stephen Henderson Critics Award for Achievement in Literature. He is currently the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Northwestern University, where he teaches in the Creative Writing Program.