A photo of a woman from the chest up looking to the right
Corey Van Landingham, author of the poetry collection, "Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens," will give a reading from her work on Oct. 18 at VCU. (Contributed photo.)

Corey Van Landingham wins 26th annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens’

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Corey Van Landingham has won the 2023 Levis Reading Prize for her poetry collection “Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens.” The prize is awarded annually for the best debut or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year, and the winner is chosen by the 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.

Van Landingham will receive an award of $5,000 and will give a reading from her work at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in the James Branch Cabell Library Lecture Hall, Room 303, on the VCU campus, and the reading will be live-streamed via Zoom. To register, visit http://go.vcu.edu/levisnight.

Two additional books were selected as finalists: “Mothman Apologia” by Robert Wood Lynn and “Wound is the Origin of Wonder” by Maya C. Popa.

“Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens,” published by Tupelo Press in 2022, is Van Landingham’s second collection. She is also the author of “Antidote” (2013), winner of the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. Her latest collection, “Reader, I,” is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in April 2024.

Van Landingham’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship as well as a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, Boston Review, The New Yorker, Blackbird and Virginia Quarterly Review, among many other publications.

Van Landingham grew up in Oregon and earned a B.A. from Lewis & Clark College in Portland. She then attained an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Purdue University and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Cincinnati. She now is a faculty member in the M.F.A program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and resides in Champaign.

“Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens” has earned praise for its clear-eyed vision of the complex interaction between the personal and the political, classical myth and disinformation, as Van Landingham seeks out occasions of beauty and of terror in an era of drones waging “war that is both intimate and distanced,” as Liza Wolff-Francis observed in The Adroit Journal. David Kirby, in his Full Stop review, noted that the speaker of her poems “flies like a drone raining down firepower but also like Nike, the goddess depicted on the book’s cover . . . the goddess of victory in war, sure,  . . . but also a sort of mediator of success between gods and men.” He concluded: “The takeaway? Nike presides over the world, then and now, and this poet is her messenger.”

In winning the Levis Reading Prize, Van Landingham joins a list of celebrated recipients, including Leila Chatti for “Deluge,” Ilya Kaminsky for “Deaf Republic” and Kaveh Akbar for “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” since the award’s debut in 1998.

The upcoming event is presented by the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program in the VCU Department of English and by VCU Libraries, with additional support from the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences and the family of Larry Levis. For further information about the prize, visit https://english.vcu.edu/mfa/levis-reading-prize/, call 804-828-1329, or contact Paul Brennan, 2023 Levis Reading Prize coordinator, at levis@vcu.edu, or Gregory Donovan, director of the Levis Reading Prize, at gdonovan@vcu.edu.