February 27, 2019

2019 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award goes to Dawn Lundy Martin’s “sublime … uncompromising” collection

2019 Tufts winners Dawn Lundy Martin and Diana Khoi Nguyen
2019 KINGSLEY & KATE TUFTS POETRY AWARD WINNERS: Dawn Lundy Martin's "Good Stock Strange Blood" and Diana Khoi Nguyen's "Ghost Of."

A phone call worth $100,000.

The university placed that call last weekend to poet and University of Pittsburgh professor Dawn Lundy Martin, who has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the 2019 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

Established in 1992 by Kate Tufts in memory of her husband Kingsley, a shipping executive and poet, the award is given annually in recognition of the work of a mid-career poet. The award includes a cash prize of $100,000.

“I am so honored and thankful,” said a surprised Martin, who was honored for her fourth collection of poetry, Good Stock Strange Blood, which experiments with language as it explores the meaning of identity, the body, and the burdens of history along with one’s own private traumas.


2019 Kingsley Tufts Award recipient Dawn Lundy Martin
2019 Kingsley Tufts Award recipient Dawn Lundy Martin

The judges describe Good Stock Strange Blood as a “formidable, sublime” collection that presents “an uncompromising poetics of resistance and exactitude.”

Martin was contacted by phone by CGU President Len Jessup, judging committee chair Timothy Donnelly, and Interim Awards Director Don Share during a recent “call the winner” dinner that has been a tradition of the awards for many years.

Martin is the 27th poet to be honored with the award, whose past winners include B.H. Fairchild, Angie Estes, Henri Cole, Thomas Lux, Linda Gregerson, D.A. Powell, Ross Gay, Patricia Smith, and Donnelly (who received the award in 2012 for The Cloud Corporation).


Tim Donnelly, Len Jessup, and Don Share call this year's Tufts Poetry Award winners.
MAKING THE CALL (from left): Judging chair Tim Donnelly, CGU President Len Jessup, and Interim Awards Director Don Share

Kate Tufts Discovery Award
Winner Diana Khoi Nguyen

A second call was placed to Diana Khoi Nguyen, a multimedia artist and doctoral candidate at the University of Denver, to notify her that she is this year’s Kate Tufts Discovery Award, which recognizes a promising poet’s early work with a cash prize of $10,000.

Nguyen was chosen for her poignant meditations on the death of her brother in Ghost Of, a collection that captures the power that such a painful absence has exerted—and continues to exert—on her family’s life.

A year after establishing the award in her husband’s memory, Kate Tufts established the Discovery award to celebrate the work of a promising new poet.  Past Kate Tufts Discovery Award winners include Yona Harvey, Charles Harper Webb, and Beth Bachmann.


2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award recipient Diana Khoi Nguyen
2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award recipient Diana Khoi Nguyen

Both winners will receive their awards during a private ceremony at CGU on April 10, followed by a public reading by both poets on April 11 at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino.

Donnelly described Good Stock Strange Blood and Ghost Of as books that will challenge the expectations of readers.

“They are probably different from what many people are used to or expect from poetry,” he said. “Martin and Nguyen capture a whole new layer of being in their work that, to many, will still be unfamiliar.”

“None of our finalists
took the easy path forward”

This year’s final judging committee—Cathy Park Hong, Khadijah Queen, Luis J. Rodriguez, Sandy Solomon, and Donnelly—chose the two winners from five finalists in each category. The finalists were winnowed down from a pool of several hundred nominations submitted during the year by individuals and publishers.

Donnelly had high praise for all of this year’s finalists, telling guests at the “call the winner” dinner how “we loved all of our finalists in very different ways because they’re all very different books.”

The judging committee applauded this year’s Discovery finalists, saying that Tyree Daye’s River Hymns “takes the reader on a haunting narrative journey” while Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency is “virtuosic, uncompromising, and bold.” Vanessa Angelica Villarreal “intertwines the familiar and the mythic seamlessly” in Beast Meridian while Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied is “visceral, wide-ranging storytelling.”

“All of the finalists’ books

have a certain amount of pain in them”

The committee was similarly congratulatory to the Kingsley Tufts finalists, describing CAConrad’s While Standing in Line for Death as “a manual for living in the world,” Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin “a book that will last,” Brenda Hillman’s Extra Hidden Life, among the Days “the work of a powerful poet,” and Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [lukao] “a book of great charisma filled with celebratory intimacies.”

For Donnelly, the common denominator shared by all of these finalists was the experience of pain—and a willingness to engage with it.

“All of the finalists’ books have a certain amount of pain in them. None of our finalists took the easy path forward,” he said. “That’s what art responds to: it addresses that pain—not to fix it, but to bring it to the world’s attention.”