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Solmaz Sharif wins 20th annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Look’

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Solmaz Sharif's poems have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Witness, and other publications.

Solmaz Sharif has been named the winner of the 2017 Levis Reading Prize for her poetry collection “Look.” The prize is awarded annually for the best first or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year, and is presented by the Department of English and its MFA in Creative Writing program in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The prize honors the late poet Larry Levis, who served on the VCU faculty at the time of his death in 1996. Sharif will receive an award of $5,000 and will read from her prize-winning work March 29 at 7 p.m. at James Branch Cabell Library in Richmond, followed by a reception in her honor.

Sharif’s poems have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Witness, and other publications. The former managing director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Sharif has been recognized with a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, a scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a winter fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, an NEA fellowship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. She is the winner of a 2017 Literary Award in poetry from the PEN Center USA. Sharif is currently a lecturer at Stanford University. “Look” is her first poetry collection, published by Graywolf Press in 2016. The collection was named a finalist for a National Book Award.

Reviewers for the Levis Prize note that “Look” has garnered significant critical acclaim, offering readers a contemporary rendering of life during wartime. Notably, Sharif’s book lifts words and phrases taken from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to expose the dangers of euphemisms designed to sterilize and manipulate language. Her poems, reviewers said, artfully reveal how governments and their militaries use distorted phrasing to conceal human suffering and thereby contribute to a legacy of violence and injustice everywhere. For Sharif, whose uncle was killed in the Iran-Iraq War, this legacy is deeply personal.

As the winner of the Levis Reading Prize, Sharif joins a list of celebrated past recipients, including Rickey Laurentiis for “Boy with Thorn” (University of Pittsburgh Press), Sandra Lim for “The Wilderness” (W.W. Norton), Roger Reeves for “King Me” (Copper Canyon Press), Michael McGriff for “Home Burial” (Copper Canyon Press), Katherine Larson for “Radial Symmetry” (Yale University Press), Nick Lantz for “We Don’t Know We Don’t Know” (Graywolf Press), Peter Campion for “The Lions” (University of Chicago Press), Katie Ford for “Colosseum” (Graywolf Press), Matt Donovan for “Vellum” (Mariner Books) and others.

Sponsors for the Levis Reading Prize include the VCU Department of English, VCU Libraries, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, and the College of Humanities and Sciences, with additional funding provided by the family of Larry Levis. For further information about the Levis Reading Prize, see english.vcu.edu/mfa/levis-reading-prize/, call 804-828-1329, or contact Emily Block, Levis Fellow, at blocke2@mymail.vcu.edu, or Gregory Donovan, director of the Levis Reading Prize, at gdonovan@vcu.edu.

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