Women Poets’ Prize 2020 Winners Announced

The US-raised, Dundee-based poet Alisha Dietzman; the Vietnamese-Chinese-British poet Natalie Linh Bolderston; and the British-born Somali poet Warda Yassin have been announced as winners of the 2020 Women Poets’ Prize.

The biennial prize – founded by the Rebecca Swift Foundation and supported by FMcM Associates – is awarded to three women writers who each receive a holistic package that combines financial aid, creative development, well-being, and pastoral support. Celebrating poetry and the empowerment of women, it is held every two years in memory of the editor, novelist, diarist, poet, and founder and director of The Literary Consultancy, Rebecca Swift.

This year’s judges – the award-winning poets Liz Berry, Malika Booker and Pascale Petit – made the announcement live as part of a virtual winner event, hosted by prize partner The Poetry School. The ceremony also saw poet and editor Melanie Silgardo read a poem from A Suitable Love Object, a posthumous collection of poetry by Rebecca Swift, which was published by Valley Press last month.

You can watch the ceremony back by clicking on the video link below. Please activate Closed Captions if you require text accompaniment.

Berry, Booker and Petit selected the three winners from their shortlist of nine, with a total of 734 submissions entered to the prize this year.

Alisha Dietzman was raised in the American South and Central Europe. She lives in Dundee, where she is a PhD candidate in Divinity at the University of St Andrews, supported by a grant from the USUK Fulbright Commission. Her poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Pleiades, Pain, and elsewhere.

The judges said of Alisha Dietzman’s work: “This is sophisticated, complex work, intriguing and original. There is a willingness to take on big topics, such as ethics and religion. Cinematic yet formally and thematically rigorous and interrogative, these poems challenge the reader to collaborate with them in their deep explorations.

Natalie Linh Bolderston is a Vietnamese-Chinese-British poet. She was a runner-up in the 2019 BBC Proms Poetry Competition, came third in the 2019 National Poetry Competition, and received an Eric Gregory Award in 2020. Her pamphlet, The Protection of Ghosts, is published with V. Press.

The judges said of Natalie Linh Bolderston’s work: “ These are wonderful formally inventive poems, full of power and rich language. Every line has impact. There is a bold experimental lyrical impulse here that is very beautifully crafted. Exciting, rich, ambitious and original, this could enrich the range of British poetics.”

Warda Yassin is a British-born Somali poet and secondary school teacher based in Sheffield. She was a winner of the 2018 New Poets Prize for her debut pamphlet Tea with Cardamom (Poetry Business, published 2019). From October 2020, she will be taking on the role of Sheffield Poet Laureate.

The judges said of Warda Yassin’s work: “There is a maturity and clarity in this work that is profound and deeply moving. We found so much to admire in these poems which feel vivid, fresh and passionately engaged, with a lyrical grace and dazzling image-making. This is a poet we’d love to see blossom.”

The three winners will each receive £1,500 in a cash bursary – increased from £1,000 thanks to an anonymous donor – alongside:

•  a TLC poetry mentor for the duration of a year, with Mona Arshi, Isobel Dixon and Martha Sprackland announced as 2020 mentors

•   resilience coaching with poet and resilience coach Shamshad Khan,

•   creative opportunities, from performance to bookbinding,

•   practical support, such as digital skills training and childcare cover, and

•   links and collaborations with prize partners.

For the first time in 2020, all 30 poets on the longlist were offered a year ’s free membership to Being A Writer, the innovative writers’ creativity platform just launched by prize partners TLC, the UK’s leading editorial consultancy founded by Rebecca Swift.

Earlier this year, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – one of the UK’s most prestigious music and drama schools – came on board as a partner, working with the prize to provide poets with voice coaching opportunities. The RBC joins Faber and Faber, Bath Spa University, The Literary Consultancy (TLC), City Lit, Verve Festival, and The Poetry School as partners through which the full benefits are being delivered.


About the 2020 judges

Liz Berry’s first book of poems, Black Country (Chatto 2014), described as a  ‘sooty,  soaring hymn to her native West Midlands’ (Guardian) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, received a Somerset Maugham Award and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award and Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014. Her pamphlet The Republic of Motherhood (Chatto, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet choice and the title poem won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018. Liz is a patron of Writing West Midlands and works as a tutor for organisations including the Arvon Foundation and The Poetry School.

Pascale Petit was born in Paris, grew up in France and Wales and lives in Cornwall. She is of French/ Welsh/Indian heritage. Her eighth collection, Tiger Girl (Bloodaxe Books, 2020), was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection, and a poem from the book won the 2020 Keats- Shelley Poetry Prize. Her previous collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), won the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018, was a Poetry Book Society Choice, and was also shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018. She published six earlier collections, four of which were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. She received a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2015, and was  the chair of the judges for the 2015 T.S. Eliot Prize. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Serbian and French. Trained as a sculptor at the Royal College of Art, she spent the first  part of her life as a visual artist.

Malika Booker is a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage and the founder of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Her pamphlet Breadfruit (flippedeye, 2007) received a Poetry Society recommendation and her poetry collection Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree  Press, 2013) was  shortlisted for the OCM Bocas prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre 2014 prize for first full collection. She is published with the poets Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire in The Penguin Modern Poet Series 3: Your Family: Your Body (2017). Malika received her MA from Goldsmiths University and has recently begun a PhD at the University of Newcastle. She was the Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow in Creative Writing at Leeds University, the first British poet to be a fellow at  Cave  Canem and  the  inaugural Poet in Residence at The Royal Shakespeare Company. Malika hosts and curates New Caribbean Voices, Peepal Tree Press’s literary podcast, and is currently a poetry Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

About the Women Poets’ Prize

As a biennial award, the Women Poets’ Prize seeks to honour Rebecca’s two key passions: poetry and the empowerment of women. The Prize offers three women poets a programme of support and creative professional development opportunities in collaboration with a wide range partner organisations.

Each winner of the Women Poets’ Prize will be carefully matched with a poetry mentor in  addition  to a pastoral coach, facilitating a body of support that will nurture craft and wellbeing in equal measure. The three winners will also each receive a monetary award of £1,000. The Rebecca Swift Foundation is keen for poets at all career stages to apply, with a particular eye for applications from individuals who do not usually consider applying for prizes. The Foundation and the Women  Poets’ Prize were announced formally at the Second Home Poetry Festival in June 2018.

About the Rebecca Swift Foundation

The Rebecca Swift Foundation is a UK registered charity set up in memory of Rebecca Swift – a much-loved editor, novelist, diarist, poet, and founder and director of The  Literary Consultancy from its foundation in 1996 until her early death in April 2017. The Foundation is overseen by a Board of Trustees who held Rebecca dear, with Victoria Adukwei Bulley as Project Manager.

TLC was the UK’s first editorial consultancy for writers, and was co-founded by Rebecca and her colleague Hannah Griffiths after they met working together at Virago Press. At the time of its inception, TLC ’s aim was to bridge the gap between writers, agents and publishers. Jenny Downham, Tina Seskis, Penny Pepper, Neamat Imam, Prue Leith, and Kerry Young  are  among the many authors   it has supported to publication over the years. Now an Arts Council England NPO, TLC also runs a  nationwide bursary scheme for  low-income and  marginalised writers alongside its  commercial editorial, mentoring, and events services. Rebecca was a prolific writer, and a great lover of  poetry. Her biography of Emily Dickinson, Dickinson: Poetic Lives, was published in 2011 with Hesperus Press, and she wrote poetry throughout her life. She was also a Trustee of the Maya Centre, a charity supporting vulnerable women in Islington through psychodynamic counselling, and a vocal supporter of their mental health therapy programmes which focus on enabling women to heal through learning to tell their stories.

Rebecca was always very clear that her wish for TLC, as for the Foundation, was to shift the emphasis away from ‘outcomes’ that focussed on publication, and instead to maximise vital creative space for poets within a supported environment, giving them the opportunity to explore their writing and develop their poetic voice and their central sense of self, as well as improving skills through the learning modules, combining the holistic with the practical and allowing the poetry, and the poets, to flourish.

About FMcM Associates

FMCM provides year-round pro-bono media and marketing support and ongoing consultation to the Women Poets’ Prize. We are an award-winning communications consultancy that specialises in literature and the arts, with an impressive client list and a big reputation. Whether working on book campaigns, on literary prizes and festivals, or on  pioneering industry initiatives, we  represent some of the most inspiring and exciting brands, authors and publishers in the literary landscape.

With over 20 years at the cutting edge of the industry, we are specialists in everything from poetry and literature in translation, to blockbuster history titles, crime fiction, to literary debuts and commercial bestsellers. Our passionate and collaborative team deliver creative media, digital and PR campaigns with real impact, and respond to each project with a strategic, intelligent and bespoke approach. www.fmcm.co.uk