Writers of African descent on T.S. Eliot Prize 2021 shortlist

Raymond Antrobus, Kayo Chingonyi, and Kevin Young are on the shortlist for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2021 announced on October 14, 2021.

The T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry was inaugurated to celebrate the UK Poetry Book Society’s 40th birthday and honour its founding poet in 1993. T.S. Eliot, full name Thomas Stearns Eliot had the poetry collections Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), Ara Vos Prec (London) and Poems: 1920 (New York). The United States born poet, who passed away in 1965, was also an essayist, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. Described as ‘the prize most poets want to win’ (Sir Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate) and ‘the world’s top poetry award’ (Independent), it is awarded annually to the author of the best new collection of poetry published in the UK and Ireland.

The prize is worth £25,000 to the winner and the ten shortlisted poets each receive £1,500. Previous winners include Derek Walcott (2010), John Burnside (2011), Sharon Olds (2012), Sinéad Morrissey (2013), David Harsent (2014) Sarah Howe (2015), Jacob Polley (2016), Ocean Vuong (2017), and Hannah Sullivan (2018).

The prize this year is judged by a panel of Glyn Maxwell (Chair), Caroline Bird and Zaffar Kunial and they had to go through 177 poetry collections submitted by British and Irish publishers. From these, they have selected a shortlist of ten with the following African poets of African descent making the cut;

  • Raymond Antrobus, All the Names Given, Picador
  • Kayo Chingonyi, A Blood Condition, Chatto & Windus
  • Kevin Young, Stones, Cape Poetry

Glyn Maxwell said: “We are delighted with our shortlist, while lamenting all the fine work we had to set aside. Poetry styles are as disparate as we’ve ever known them, and the wider world as threatened and bewildered as any of us can remember. Out of this we have chosen ten books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment. Older and younger, wiser and wilder, well-known and lesser-known, these are the ten voices we think should enter the stage and be heard in the spotlight, changing the story.”

Raymond Antrobus said, “Recently I visited Vanessa Bell’s house in Charleston (Virginia Woolf’s sister). I was given a tour. In one of the rooms I sat myself down on a chair facing the window, when I was immediately scolded by the tour guide, “Please don’t touch or sit on the furniture! TS Eliot sat in that very chair whenever he visited here!”. I found myself apologising to the chair and backing away. So when I got an email titled “TS Eliot” the following week I thought I was receiving a complaint, a fine, perhaps a lifetime ban from the house. Instead it said ‘All The Names Given’ has been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot prize. I swear, I laughed, cursed, then fell off my chair.”

The winner of the 2021 Prize will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Monday 10th January 2022, where the winner and the shortlisted poets will be presented with their cheques.