And the winner is ... Ishion Hutchinson snags PEN poetry award
Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson has won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry with his debut collection Far District. The announcement was made earlier this month, along with a number of literary awards by the PEN American Centre.
PEN, founded in London in 1921, is a worldwide association of writers. Far District is published by the UK-based Peepal Tree Press and Hutchinson has won a cash prize of US$5,000.
Via email, Hutchinson told The Sunday Gleaner that while he was not certain of the selection process, "I believe your book is selected by members of PEN Awards Committee. Nominee must be an emerging poet, meaning one must not have published more than one book. Selection comes down, really, to the merit of your book".
"My publisher sent me an email that I was nominated. It had been a year since the book was out, so it came as a late surprise. Sometime after, PEN emailed me that I was awarded the prize. My surprise turned into elation. I felt grateful instantly."
Hutchinson, a participant in the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust workshops, read at the festival - which came to an end last year - twice. He was among the festival's opening quartet, along with Owen 'Blacka' Ellis, Veronica Salter and Rudolph Wallace, in 2004, and also read at the final staging in the segment 'Men at Work'. A Gleaner story from 2004 records another win for Hutchinson, when he took home $30,000 for topping the Poetry Klash competition at Weekenz on Constant Spring Road, St Andrew.
The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, graduate earned an MFA in Creative Writing at New York University and now teaches creative writing and literature courses at a university in the United States. However, he describes his job as "to read".
Hutchinson is not unmindful of his roots and said, "I have been fortunate with teachers all my life who indulged me not only with their books but their time. Time and their ears. Of these, the first was Mr Maxwell Coore from Titchfield, who read my salad-days poetry with such patience. I don't know how he tolerated me. Kwame Dawes, in his extraordinary example as a poet and a man, showed me many things. Above all though, my grandmother Aunt May, an illiterate country woman, with never a word about poetry, inspired me with her faith in work: work is worship, and I think poetry is worship - praise. I thank her for that".
The Sunday Gleaner asked Hutchinson if he wished to return to Jamaica to live and he responded, "I see myself as a working tourist in the US, so there is really no "return ... to live." It is hard to make a living anywhere as an artist. Jamaica is not unique in that regard, but things are really stagnant at home. One desires security and comfort and material to work, hence this bitter pleasure of exile".
Hutchinson will be attending the awards ceremony in New York City on October 12 and said he has "some secret plans" for the prize money.
Naturally, he continues to write, and "another collection is shaping slowly as well as bits of translation", and he is also working on a play.