Sullivan scoops £25k T S Eliot Prize

Sullivan scoops £25k T S Eliot Prize

Hannah Sullivan has won the £25,000 T S Eliot Prize for her "astonishing" debut collection Three Poems (Faber).

Sullivan beat off competition from three other Faber poets, as well as US poet laureate Tracy K Smith for the award which was presented at the Wallace Collection in central London on Monday evening (14th January). Her 80-page debut collection was published last January and features three long poems: ‘You, Very Young in New York’, ‘Repeat until Time', and 'The Sandpit after Rain’. 

“Hannah Sullivan’s Three Poems is an astonishing debut, challenging the parameters of what poetry can do," chair of the judges Sinead Morrissey said of the west London-based poet. "Her collection stood out even amongst this year’s outstanding and diverse shortlist. Rarely has such a significant poet arrived so fully-formed.”

Following the winning announcement, a visibly shocked Sullivan was led through the crowd, and revealed her surprise at the prize. “This is completely unexpected, I’m fantastically grateful to everyone at Faber,” she said. “A year ago today I was an unpublished poet and then my book came out in January.”

Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page told The Bookseller how Sullivan's win, and the publisher's strong showing in the nominations, was representative of a greater, "thrilling" movement in the Faber poetry list.

"It’s extremely pleasing obviously to have had so many on the shortlist – three of those four are debuts," he said. "We’ve been working very hard over the last decade to build the next generation of poets on the Faber list so to see three on the list was really pleasing and to have Hannah win was amazing. They represent something very exciting going on at Faber in terms of a next generation of poetry. In writing and publishing terms, you get those moments where the stage gets lit and this shortlist was one of those moments so to have a winner is particularly thrilling."

Page said of Faber's future poetry plans: "Over the next year or so, it will be a continuation of the conversation that’s always going on between the past and the present and to find the best new poets and publish those we have for some time, as inventively as we can. Obviously social media and the digital world allows you to think with new tools, about how to get people to listen to you and read and encounter poets, in some ways the democracy of that is an opportunity for poetry. It’s not a big part of the publishing’s sales in terms of selling poetry….it takes something like hearing a poem at a funeral or a wedding to get people to reconnect with poetry so social media is a way to interrupt that [gap]."

Sullivan is an associate professor at New College, Oxford and has also studied at Cambridge as well as US universities Harvard and Stanford. Her prize-winning academic text, The Work of Revision (Harvard University Press), was published in 2013 and explores redrafting in early-twentieth-century modernism, examining changes made in manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs by T S Eliot himself, amongst others. Sullivan is also up for the Costa poetry prize for her collection, which will be announced on 29th January. 

Sullivan was presented with a cheque for £25,000 at the ceremony and each shortlisted poet received a cheque for £1,500 each.

Faber had the strongest showing on the 10-strong shortlist with Zaffar Kunial's Us, Nick Laird's Feel Free and Richard Scott's Soho. Penguin had two poets nominated with Smith’s Wade in the Water along with Terrance Hayes' American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins while Picador featured with Sean O'Brien's Europa. On the indies side, Sullivan fended off Ailbhe Darcy's Insistence (Bloodaxe), Fiona Moore's The Distal Point (Happenstance), and Phoebe Power's Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet). Five debut collections were nominated with a record 176 applications received last year for the prize, presided over by Morriseey along with Daljit Nagra and Clare Pollard.

The award is run by the T S Eliot Foundation and is the most valuable prize in British poetry, with the winning poet receiving a cheque for £25,000 and the shortlisted poets each receiving £1,500. It is the only poetry prize which is judged purely by established poets. The T S Eliot Prize Shortlist Readings took place on Sunday (13th January) in Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall as part of its literature programme.

Last year Ocean Vuong won the prize with Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Jonathan Cape).