Ilya Kaminsky wins 23rd annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Deaf Republic’

A book cover with "Deaf Republic" and "Ilya Kaminsky" listed on the left. A p...
Ilya Kaminsky's poetry collection “Deaf Republic" has been recognized with the 2020 Levis Reading Prize. (Courtesy photo)

Ilya Kaminsky is the winner of the 2020 Levis Reading Prize for his poetry collection “Deaf Republic. 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 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Kaminsky will receive an award of $5,000 and will give a reading from his work for this year’s award celebration, an event to be held online via Google Meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28.  

“Deaf Republic” is set in an occupied country during a time of protest, and in resistance to the resulting violence and the killing of a deaf child by soldiers of the invading army, the citizens become deaf themselves, communicating solely with sign language. The collection has garnered widespread critical acclaim for its visionary scope, energetic lyricism, emotive resonance and a political urgency appropriate to our times. Kevin Young, writing for The New Yorker, called the collection “a contemporary epic. Evident throughout is a profound imagination, matched only by the poet’s ability to create a republic of conscience that is ultimately ours.”

“Deaf Republic” is Kaminsky’s second full-length poetry collection, and was published by Graywolf Press in 2019. The collection this year won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, and in 2019 the National Jewish Book Award. The collection was named a finalist in the 2019 National Book Awards, the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Awards, the 2020 Kingsley Tufts Award, the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection, and the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize.

Kaminsky is also the author of a previous full-length poetry collection, “Dancing in Odessa,” (Tupelo Press, 2004), and a chapbook, “Musica Humana” (Chapiteau Press, 2002), as well as individual poems published in such journals as The American Poetry Review, the Kenyon Review, The New Yorker and Poetry, among other publications. His honors include a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize and its Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, a Lannan Fellowship, and an Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

Kaminsky was born in the city of Odessa in the former Soviet Union and came with his family to the U.S. in 1993 when they were granted political asylum. He holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Institute of Technology and lives in Atlanta.

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

The Levis Reading Prize honors the memory of the poet Larry Levis, who was a VCU faculty member at the time of his death in 1996.

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 Colin Bailes, 2020 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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