Alumni engagement and philanthropy

QUEEN'S POET STEPHEN SEXTON WINS PRESTIGIOUS LITERATURE AWARD  Poet Stephen Sexton pictured against Belfast backdrop

27 April 2020

Dr Stephen Sexton, lecturer in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's, has won the prestigious EM Forster Award, announced by The American Academy of Arts and Letters in March.

The Academy's literature awards, totalling $350,000, honour both established and emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry.

Stephen's success sees him follow in the footsteps of previous winners including Seamus Heaney (1975), Colm Toibin (1995) and Sinead Morrissey (2016). As part of the award he receives $20,000 to travel and stay in the US.

This year's judging panel consisted of poets Colum McCann, Jhumpa Lahiri and Paul Muldoon, who is also a graduate of Queen’s (BA English, 1973).

Professor Glenn Patterson, Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre, commented: "Stephen Sexton is a brilliant poet, and a wonderful colleague. Everyone connected to the Seamus Heaney Centre is delighted at this further recognition of his extraordinary talent."

Also congratulating Dr Sexton for his achievement, Damian Smyth, head of literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: "As its name suggests, the EM Forster Award is hugely prestigious.

“With his success in this prize in the US, winning the UK National Poetry Competition Prize in 2016, an Eric Gregory Award in 2018 and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2019, the sense is quickly growing on both sides of the Atlantic that Stephen Sexton is already one of those rare poets whose obvious and prodigious lyric gifts are matched both by accessibility and universality."

Stephen's debut collection, If All the World and Love Were Young (Penguin, 2019), has won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, been shortlisted for the John Pollard Poetry Prize, and long listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize. It was a Sunday Times, New Statesman, and Telegraph Book of the Year 2019.

Dr Sexton, who has three degrees from Queen’s – BA English (2011), MA Creative Writing (2012) and PhD (2017) – picked up the prestigious Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection last October.

Born in 1988 and currently living in Ballygowan in County Down, he started teaching in the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in 2018. If All the World and Love Were Young was part of his Creative Writing PhD thesis at Queen’s which he completed under the supervision of (the late) Ciaran Carson, Sinéad Morissey and Gail McConnell. The work explores memories of his mother's death in 2012 and Stephen’s deep sense of loss through the lens of a beloved childhood video game Super Mario.

The Award, named after the English novelist, essayist, and literary critic Edward Morgan Forster, author of A Room With A View, Howards End and A Passage To India, is given annually to an Irish or British writer to fund travel in the United States. Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters nominate writers and the winners are selected by a rotating committee.

To submit graduate news items, or for general enquiries about this story, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast.

Main photo credit: Michael Weir 

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