Jenny Xie wins 22nd annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Eye Level’

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.
Jenny Xie next to the book cover for 'Eye Level: Poems by Jenny Xie' (National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets)

Jenny Xie is the winner of the 2019 Levis Reading Prize for her poetry collection “Eye Level.” 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.

The prize honors the memory of the poet Larry Levis, who was a VCU faculty member at the time of his death in 1996. Xie will receive an award of $5,000 and will read from her prize-winning work on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library, followed by a reception in her honor.

Poems by Xie have appeared in Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Tin House, among other publications. “Eye Level,” Xie’s first full-length poetry collection, was published by Graywolf Press in 2018. The collection was awarded the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets as well as the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University, and was named a finalist for both the PEN Open Book Award and the National Book Awards.

Xie is also the author of a chapbook, “Nowhere to Arrive,” published by Northwestern University Press in 2017. She has been the recipient of fellowships and grants from Kundiman, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Poets & Writers. Born in Hefei, China, and raised in New Jersey, Xie now lives in New York and teaches at New York University.

“Eye Level” has received widespread recognition and acclaim for poems that have been described as marked by lucid vision, fluid lyricism, and an immersive complexity achieved in interwoven navigations of both inward and outward geographies.

Tracy K. Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate for 2017-19, wrote of “Eye Level”: “How many lives have been lived inside Jenny Xie’s brief life? I’m guessing the number is staggering, as is the wisdom I find in her remarkable debut.” Juan Felipe Herrera, the U.S. Poet Laureate for 2015-17, wrote in his judge’s statement for the Walt Whitman Award that “Eye Level” is “a timely collection of beauty, clarity, and expansive humanity.”

In winning the Levis Reading Prize, Xie joins a list of celebrated past recipients, including Kaveh Akbar for “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” (Alice James Books), Solmaz Sharif for “Look” (Graywolf Press), and Rickey Laurentiis for “Boy with Thorn” (University of Pittsburgh Press), among others.

Xie was one of three finalists for the 2019 prize. The other two finalists were Austin Smith for “Flyover Country” (Princeton University Press, 2018) and Diana Khoi Nguyen for “Ghost Of” (Omnidawn Publishing, 2018).

Sponsors of the Levis Reading Prize include VCU Libraries, VCU Department of English, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, with additional funding provided by the family of Larry Levis.

For more information about the Levis Reading Prize, visit its page on the Department of English's website, call (804) 828-1329, or contact AJ White, 2019 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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