Mehri and Etchells win Manchester Writing Competition

Mehri and Etchells win Manchester Writing Competition

Momtaza Mehri and Tim Etchells have won the Manchester Writing Competition for unpublished work, taking away £10,000 each in prize money.

The awards, devised by former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy in 2008 to encourage new work, were presented at a ceremony at Chetham’s Library on Friday night (7th February).

Etchells picked up the Fiction Prize for his experimental 2,500-word short story Strange Weather, praised by judges for its risk-taking and experimental style.

Describing the award as "humbling", he said: "In my work I’ve always been interested in formal and linguistic experiment, not for its own sake but because it has seemed to me that an inventive, playful and subversive approach to fiction and to language itself might prove the ground and provide the tools for new understandings of our experience and the stories we find ourselves in.

"It's that impulse – to understand our experience – intimate, social and, in the end political, that I think a prize like this one champions."

A professor of performance at Lancaster University, Etchell’s collection of short fiction, Endland, was published by And Other Stories in 2019. He saw off competition from a shortlist featuring Elaine Chiew, Lauren Collett, Louise Finnigan, Molly Menickelly and Ian Sample. 

Mehri, a former Young People’s Laureate for London, bagged the Poetry Prize for her collection of four works: Amniotica, Milk Teeth, Haematology #2 and On Finally Seeing Astarte Syriaca I am Overcome with a Longing to Text You a Meme Only You Would Laugh At.

Judges hailed her "distinctive voice both playful and musical that challenges and provokes” that “speaks for a nation and constituency while also turning our beliefs about poetry on its head."

Mehri said: "It's an overwhelming and unbelievable honour to not only be shortlisted tonight but to also win the 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize. To be affirmed at such a level by my community means so much.

"Aside from obvious bewilderment, I accept this with deep gratitude to this year's judges for seeing something worthwhile in my work and for championing contemporary experimental poetry, a tradition I will forever be indebted to. Thank you to Carol Ann Duffy, without whom this prize and the support it lends would not exist. This prize will grant me some much-needed time and space to breathe and write."

Alongside her poetry, Mehri is a "meme archivist" and essayist whose work has appeared in Granta, Poetry International and Vogue. She is the co-winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and the 2017 Outspoken Page Poetry Prize.

She emerged from a shortlist that also included Katie Hale, Lauren Pope, Karisma Price, David Allen Sullivan and Marvin Thompson.

The Manchester Writing Competition is run by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she is creative director.