News | Friday, 7th February 2020
Manchester Writing Competition 2019 winners revealed as Momtaza Mehri and Tim Etchells
Poetry Prize and Fiction Prize awarded to best unpublished writing
The winners of the Manchester Writing Competition 2019, the UK’s richest prize for unpublished work, are Momtaza Mehri and Tim Etchells.
Mehri took home the Manchester Poetry Prize, while Etchells collected the Manchester Fiction Prize at a gala awards ceremony on Friday evening (February 7). Each winner receives £10,000 prize money.
Devised by former poet laureate Professor Carol Ann Duffy DBE in 2008 to encourage new work and seek out the best creative writing from emerging talent from across the world, Manchester Writing Competition is run by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she is creative director.
Mehri, a former Young People’s Laureate for London, won the Poetry Prize for her collection of four poems 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, while artist and writer Etchells gained the Fiction Prize for his experimental 2,500-word short story Strange Weather.
Mehri is a poet, essayist and meme archivist whose work has appeared in Granta, Artforum, Poetry International, BBC Radio 4, Vogue and Real Life Mag. She is the co-winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and the 2017 Outspoken Page Poetry Prize.
Judges hailed her “distinctive voice both playful and musical that challenges and provokes” that “speaks for a nation and constituency whilst also turning our beliefs about poetry on its head.”
From my mother to various unforgettable teachers and mentor-poets, this prize is dedicated to all those who helped me find a sense of permanence and home in poetry. I cannot thank you enough for this gift.
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.
“To my fellow short-listed poets, it's been a joy to be in your company. Poetry has been my only constant. It has given me a language for displacement, loss and multiplicity.
“As someone who has led a transient and unsettled life, poetry has been a sustaining grounded force. From my mother to various unforgettable teachers and mentor-poets, this prize is dedicated to all those who helped me find a sense of permanence and home in poetry. I cannot thank you enough for this gift. All I can do is pay it forward.”
Mehri emerged victorious from a shortlist that also included Katie Hale, Lauren Pope, Karisma Price, David Allen Sullivan and Marvin Thompson.
Etchells’ work shifts between performance, visual art and fiction, and he is the leader of Sheffield-based performance group Forced Entertainment as well as Professor of Performance at Lancaster University. His collection of short fiction Endland was published by And Other Stories in 2019. Strange Weather was praised for its risk-taking and experimental style.
Etchells said: “It is a real honour to be awarded this year’s Fiction Prize. I’m grateful to the judges and to everyone involved at the Manchester Writing School, as well as to Carol Ann Duffy for establishing the prize itself. I’d also like to salute the other shortlisted writers and poets for their amazing work – it’s humbling to be singled out in the context of such a strong and diverse short-list.
“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 in the end.”
I’d also like to salute the other shortlisted writers and poets for their amazing work – it’s humbling to be singled out in the context of such a strong and diverse short-list
Etchells was shortlisted alongside Elaine Chiew, Lauren Collett, Louise Finnigan, Molly Menickelly and Ian Sample.
Work by the shortlisted authors and poets was performed at the awards ceremony in the atmospheric Baronial Hall at Chetham’s Library in the heart of Manchester. Sakinah Hofler, the winner of the 2017 Fiction Prize, was guest of honour at the event.
We kept turning her last page eager to read more. Mehri deservedly both resonated with us and blew us away.
Prize money totalling £195,000 has now been distributed since the competition’s inception, and has helped to accelerate a number of international literary careers.
Shortlisted entrants this year were based in the UK, Netherlands, USA and Singapore – underlining Manchester’s status as an international destination for creative writing. Manchester was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017.
We experiment every time we set pen to paper, or open up a new file and start writing. This prize seeks to celebrate that and to encourage the risk-takers.
Malika Booker, poet and artist, as well as Lecturer at Manchester Writing School, and Chair of the Poetry Prize panel, said: “Time and time again we were drawn back to Momtaza Mehri’s portfolio of poetry. We were struck by the poetics, the ambitions of the poems particularly Amniotica. Here was a distinctive voice both playful and musical that challenges and provokes. Here was a voice that speaks for a nation and constituency whilst also turning our beliefs about poetry on its head. Here was a voice that we wanted to hear more. We kept turning her last page eager to read more. Mehri deservedly both resonated with us and blew us away.”
Chair of judges for the Manchester Fiction Prize, novelist, short story writer and editor of Best British Short Stories, Nicholas Royle, who is also Reader in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan said: “The winning story is the one that we were most excited by. There was some discussion about whether it was fair to give the prize to an experimental story. What would the other writers think? ‘Oh, well, if I’d known you could be experimental…’ But, looking at the shortlisted stories, they are all, to greater and lesser degrees, experiments. One uses reverse chronology. One is so sharply satirical it could have cut itself out of the picture. Others take different kinds of risks. The fact is, we experiment every time we set pen to paper, or open up a new file and start writing. This prize seeks to celebrate that and to encourage the risk-takers.”