UMass poet finalist for prestigious prize


Published: 10/25/2017 10:07:26 PM

AMHERST — A University of Massachusetts Amherst professor has been named a finalist for one of the United Kindgom’s most prestigious poetry prizes.

Ocean Vuong, an assistant professor in the UMass master of fine arts program for poets and writers, is one of 10 poets in the running to win the T.S. Eliot Prize for his debut poetry collection, “Night Sky with Exit Wounds.”

The award, which now carries with it $33,160 in prize money, has since 1993 been given to the author of what a panel of judges deems the best new poetry collection published in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Among the awards past winners are Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, former MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Anne Carson and Carol Ann Duffy, who was the first woman, Scot and openly gay poet to be named as Britain’s Poet Laureate.

Vuong, of Northampton, is no stranger to critical acclaim.

The American Poetry Review awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize for Younger Poets in 2012, and his work has been featured in publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Vuong came to Hartford, Connecticut, as a refugee at the age of 2, and his “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” deals in part with the theme of migration.

“There is a powerful emotional undertow to these poems that springs from Mr. Vuong’s sincerity and candor, and from his ability to capture specific moments in time with both photographic clarity and a sense of the evanescence of all earthly things,” the literary critic Michiko Kakutani wrote of the book in The New York Times.

Kakutani included the book in her list of “top books of 2016.”

Readings from the writers on the shortlist will take place on Jan. 14, 2018, and the winner of the prize will be announced the following day.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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