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\"Deluge\" by Leila Chatti [View Image]

Leila Chatti wins 24th annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Deluge’

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Leila Chatti is the winner of the 2021 Levis Reading Prize for her poetry collection “Deluge.” The prize is awarded annually for the best first or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year and chosen by the Department of English and its M.F.A. in Creative Writing program in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University. The prize honors the memory of poet Larry Levis, who was a VCU faculty member at the time of his death in 1996. 

Chatti will receive an award of $5,000 and will give a reading from her work at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23 in the VCU James Branch Cabell Library, and via livestream.

“Deluge,” Chatti’s debut full-length poetry collection, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2020 and was selected for the long list of the 2021 PEN America Open Book Award. Chatti is also author of the chapbooks “Ebb” (Akashic Books, 2018) and “Tunsiya/Amrikiya” (Bull City Press, 2018), as well as individual poems published in such journals as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and New England Review, among other publications. 

She is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. In addition, she has received numerous fellowships and scholarships, including from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, Key West Literary Seminar, Dickinson House and Cleveland State University, where she was the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Writing and Publishing. Chatti is a Tunisian-American dual citizen, and she teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is the Mendota Lecturer in Poetry. 

“Deluge” has received widespread attention and acclaim for poems marked by compelling personal narratives interwoven with rich use of language and image. Chatti’s use of varied forms allows for deep lyrical explorations into our perceptions of illness, shame, gender and religion that are nuanced yet powerful and direct, according to the Levis Reading Prize committee.

Writing in The New York Times, Naomi Shihab Nye observes that “to write a series of poems out of extreme illness is a bracing accomplishment indeed. In ‘Deluge’ … Leila Chatti, born of a Catholic mother and a Muslim father, brilliantly explores the trauma. In a frightening two-year saga of a tumor and the ‘flooding’ it caused, Chatti finds not disassociation but deeper association with her own experience.”

In winning the Levis Reading Prize, Chatti joins a list of celebrated past recipients, including Ilya Kaminsky for “Deaf Republic” (Graywolf Press), Jenny Xie for “Eye Level” (Graywolf Press), and Kaveh Akbar for “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” (Alice James Books), among others. 

Sponsors for the Levis Reading Prize include VCU Libraries, VCU Department of English, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and the Levis family. For further information about the prize, see https://english.vcu.edu/mfa/levis-reading-prize/, call (804) 828-1329, or contact Brandon Young, 2021 Levis Reading Prize coordinator, at levis@vcu.edu or Gregory Donovan, director of the Levis Reading Prize, at gdonovan@vcu.edu.

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