Portrait of Devon Walker-Figueroa
Devon Walker-Figueroa (Courtesy photo)

Devon Walker-Figueroa Wins 25th Annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Philomath’

The prize is awarded annually for the best debut or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year.

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Devon Walker-Figueroa is the winner of the 2022 Levis Reading Prize for her poetry collection “Philomath.” The prize is awarded annually for the best debut or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year and chosen by the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program in Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Humanities and Sciences. The prize honors the memory of poet Larry Levis, who was a VCU faculty member at the time of his death in 1996.

Walker-Figueroa will receive an award of $5,000 and will give a reading from her work at 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 in the James Branch Cabell Library on the VCU campus and via livestream.

“Philomath,” Walker-Figueroa’s debut full-length poetry collection, was published by Milkweed Editions in 2021 and was selected by Sally Keith for the 2020 National Poetry Series. “Philomath” also was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle’s 2021 John Leonard Prize for Best First Book. Walker-Figueroa’s writing has appeared in The Nation, POETRY magazine, the American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Zyzzyva and elsewhere. She is a 2022-2023 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholar and the recipient of the New England Review’s 2018 Emerging Writer Award, the 2021 Poetry Society of America’s Lucille Medwick Memorial Award and several notable scholarships. Walker-Figueroa received her education from Cornell University, Bennington College, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and New York University, where she was the Jill Davis Fellow in fiction.

Book cover for Devon Walker-Figueroa's \"Philomath\"
"Philomath" by Devon Walker-Figueroa

“Philomath” has received widespread acclaim for its insightful excavation of history, place, memory and myth. The poet melds ancient folklore with personal storylines that revolve around her childhood in the ghost towns of Kings Valley and nearby Philomath in the Oregon Coast Range. In the Chicago Review of Books, Mandana Chaffa writes, “There are also a number of ghosts in this collection: of family, friends, ancestors, even dreams and desires. These poems are the echoes of those spirits, and Walker-Figueroa channels them unvarnished, more memorable for their flaws than any buffed perfections … both forager and conjuror; on this land, in these forests, she’s able to express the concrete nature of humanity, as well as the inexplicable magic.”

In winning the Levis Reading Prize, Devon Walker-Figueroa joins a list of celebrated past recipients, including Leila Chatti for “Deluge” (Copper Canyon Press), Ilya Kaminsky for “Deaf Republic” (Graywolf Press), Jenny Xie for “Eye Level” (Graywolf Press) and Kaveh Akbar for “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” (Alice James Books), among many more.

This event is presented by the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program in the VCU Department of English and VCU Libraries with additional support from Barnes & Noble @ VCU, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and the family of Larry Levis. For further information about the prize, visit the Levis Reading Prize webpage, call (804) 828-1329, or contact Katy Scarlett, 2022 Levis Reading Prize coordinator, at levis@vcu.edu or Gregory Donovan, Ph.D., director of the Levis Reading Prize, at gdonovan@vcu.edu.