UMass Amherst Faculty Member Ocean Vuong Wins T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong
'Night Sky with Exit Wounds' cover

AMHERST, Mass. – Poet Ocean Vuong of the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the winner of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his debut collection “Night Sky with Exit Wounds,” which addresses themes of migration, America and Vietnam, his country of birth.

Vuong, who is an assistant professor in UMass Amherst’s MFA for Poets and Writers program, received the £25,000 prize on Jan. 15 in London.

Chair of judges Bill Herbert said Vuong’s collection “deals with the aftermath of war and migration over three generations. It is a compellingly assured debut, the definitive arrival of a significant voice.”

The T.S. Eliot Prize, inaugurated in 1993, has been described as “the prize most poets want to win” and “the world’s top poetry prize.” The prize is awarded annually to the author of the best new collection of poetry published in the U.K. and Ireland. It is distinctive among poetry prizes in being judged by a panel of established poets. Previous winners have included Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy, Alice Oswald and Seamus Heaney.

The Eliot prize is the latest in a string of honors for Vuong’s book, including Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Vuong’s writings have been featured in The Atlantic, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 “100 Leading Global Thinker,” alongside Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon and Warsan Shire, Vuong was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “PBS NewsHour,” Teen Vogue, VICE, The Fantastic Man and The New Yorker.

Born in Saigon, he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 2 as a child refugee.