The 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets Winner: Airea D. Matthews

March 1, 2016

Yale University Press is pleased to announce a winner in the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. The judge, prize-winning and critically acclaimed poet Carl Phillips, has chosen Airea D. Matthews’s manuscript, simulacra.

Series judge Carl Phillips says: “Rebellion is the first word that comes to mind, when reading simulacra, Airea Matthews’s rollicking, destabilizing, at once intellectually sly and piercing and finally poignant debut. The main rebellion here is against all formal expectations of what a book of poetry is or ‘should’ be – Narcissus communicates by Tweets, Anne Sexton sends texts from death to a recipient who may or may not be dead; there’s a miniature opera; there are upended nods to the epistolary tradition, prose poems, even a Barthes-influenced calculus. The subject matter is no less various – from miscegenation to Gertrude Stein, from estranged love to Wittgenstein — but a particular constant is the theme of wanting: on one hand, wanting as desire, for safety, for faith, for a way to know the self; and on the other hand, wanting as lack, lack both as emptiness and as a motivating force behind the quest for an end to emptiness. And if language itself is empty, and all we have, when it comes to knowing? This is the governing, haunting question behind these always meaningfully provocative poems – poems, yes, but very much, also, poems as epistemology.”

Yale University Press will publish simulacra in April 2017. The manuscript is Phillips’s sixth selection as judge and the 111th volume in the series. Carl Phillips’s fourth selection, Noah Warren’s The Destroyer in the Glass will be published by Yale University Press on March 29, 2016.

Airea D. Matthews is a 2015 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow. She is currently the Assistant Director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her MFA, and the Executive Editor of The Offing, a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2015, edited by Sherman Alexie, American Poet, Four Way Review, The Missouri Review, The Baffler, Callaloo, Indiana Review, WSQ and elsewhere. Matthews’ fiction and essays have appeared in SLAB, Michigan Quarterly Review and Vida: Her Kind. Her performance work has been featured at the Cannes Lions Festival, PBS’ RoadTrip Nation and NPR. A Cave Canem and Callaloo fellow, Matthews lives in Detroit with her husband and their four children. Follow her on Twitter @aireadee.

Awarded since 1919 by Yale University Press, the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize celebrates the most prominent new American poets by bringing the work of these artists to the attention of the larger public. Earlier winners of the prize include such talents as Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Jean Valentine and Robert Hass. It is the longest-running poetry prize in the United States.

Yale University Press will also continue its partnership with The James Merrill House. Winners of the Series will receive one of the five writing fellowships offered at The James Merrill House in Stonington, CT. The fellowship provides a furnished living space and daily access to James Merrill’s apartment for a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a project of literary or academic merit.