Announcing the Backwaters Prize in Poetry Winner

The University of Nebraska Press is proud to announce the winner of the Backwaters Press Prize in Poetry for 2021: Laura Bylenok and her manuscript Living Room.  

Bylenok will be awarded $2,000 for her winning collection and itwill be published in the fall of 2022. Bylenok is the author of Warp (Truman State UP, 2015), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, and a/0 (New Michigan Press, 2014), and her poems have appeared in CrazyhorseGuernicaNinth LetterArts & LettersDIAGRAM, and many other journals. She teaches creative writing at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“I’m thrilled to win the prize, and even the name feels right, Backwaters—the part of a river not reached by the current, water where grasses, algae, and other slow-growing life can thrive,” said Bylenok. “That’s one of the deep preoccupations of the book, slowing down to find the hidden mesh, the ecological connection of all living beings. Such huge thanks to Huascar Medina for selecting the book and to the readers and others who contributed their energies to the process, and I’m so looking forward to working together with the press.”

The honorable mention is Sophie Klahr of Carrboro, NC. She will be awarded $1,000 and her manuscript, Two Open Doors in a Field, will be published in the spring of 2023. Sophie Klahr is the author of Meet Me Here At Dawn (YesYes Books, 2016), and her work appears in publications such as The New Yorker and American Poetry Review. 

“I’m deeply grateful to all those at Backwaters Press for embracing this work,” said Klahr. “This book arose from my time spent living in and traveling to and from Nebraska, and it feels clear that Two Open Doors In A Field has truly found its spiritual home with the University of Nebraska Press.”

The judge this year was Huascar Medina, the seventh poet laureate of Kansas, the literary editor for seveneightfive magazine and a staff editor for South Broadway Press. 

“Both collections are deeply immersive reading experiences,” said Medina. “First, we delve introspectively beneath a microscope, examining life at a cellular level, then we transcend beyond the windshield on a road trip across America. Proving what I read within Living Room, ‘anything watched long enough can become something else.’ It’s been a privilege being tasked with reading such profundities. There were so many to choose from this year.”

The 2020 Backwaters Prize winner was Nathaniel Perry from rural southside Virginia. His winning collection, Long Rules: An Essay in Verse will publish in November 2021.

Congratulations to Laura and Sophie!

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