Airea D. Matthews first collection of poems, simulacra (2017), is the Winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets. The prize, the oldest annual literary award in the United States, is awarded by Yale University Press, and is open to emerging poets who have not previously published a book of poetry and who reside in the United States. Previous winners of the Yale prize include such talents as Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Jean Valentine and Robert Hass. Critically acclaimed poet Carl Phillips selected Matthews as the winner of the competition, who describes it as “rollicking, destabilizing, at once intellectually sly and piercing and finally poignant”.
Matthews holds an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at University of Michigan, where she is now the assistant director. Both a Cave Canem Fellow and Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, she also serves as executive editor of The Offering and is the recipient of a 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her poems have appeared in American Poets, Best American Poetry 2015, The Baffler, Callaloo, Indiana Review, WSQ, Muzzle, Vinyl, Kinfolks and elsewhere. Matthews’ prose has appeared in SLAB, Michigan Quarterly Review and Vida: Her Kind. Matthews lives in Detroit, and was just named Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, beginning in Fall 2017.
WINNER 2016 YALE SERIES OF YOUNGER POETS, WINNER 2016 RONA JAFFEE FOUNDATION WRITERS AWARD
A fresh and rebellious poetic voice, Airea D. Matthews debuts in the acclaimed series that showcases the work of exciting and innovative young American poets. Matthews’s superb collection explores the topic of want and desire with power, insight, and intense emotion. Her poems cross historical boundaries and speak emphatically from a racialized America, where the trajectories of joy and exploitation, striving and thwarting, violence and celebration are constrained by differentials of privilege and contemporary modes of communication. In his foreword, series judge Carl Phillips calls this book “rollicking, destabilizing, at once intellectually sly and piercing and finally poignant.” This is poetry that breaks new literary ground, inspiring readers to think differently about what poems can and should do in a new media society where imaginations are laid bare and there is no thought too provocative to send out into the world.
Praise for simulacra:
“Rebellion is the first word that comes to mind, when reading simulacra, Airea Matthews’s rollicking, destabilizing, at once intellectually sly and piercing and finally poignant debut. The main rebellion here is against all formal expectations of what a book of poetry is or ‘should’ be – Narcissus communicates by Tweets, Anne Sexton sends texts from death to a recipient who may or may not be dead; there’s a miniature opera; there are upended nods to the epistolary tradition, prose poems, even a Barthes-influenced calculus. The subject matter is no less various – from miscegenation to Gertrude Stein, from estranged love to Wittgenstein — but a particular constant is the theme of wanting: on one hand, wanting as desire, for safety, for faith, for a way to know the self; and on the other hand, wanting as lack, lack both as emptiness and as a motivating force behind the quest for an end to emptiness. And if language itself is empty, and all we have, when it comes to knowing? This is the governing, haunting question behind these always meaningfully provocative poems – poems, yes, but very much, also, poems as epistemology.” –Yale Series judge Carle Phillips on simulacra: