Back in February, we conceived a humble project. To open submissions for a contest that would attract and highlight emerging writers of color, and to use our printing expertise to design and print highly unique books for two winners. The Own Voices Chapbook Prize—with its name borrowed from author Corinne Duyvis’ movement to spotlight and insist on diversity in publishing—was born from that idea.
For the 2020 iteration of the prize, we decided to celebrate poets who have yet to publish a full-length manuscript. Aria Aber, the author of one of the best poetry collections of 2019 Hard Damage (University of Nebraska Press), who explores place, identity, migration, and the self so vividly, kindly accepted our offer to be the guest judge.
When we announced the prize, the world was slightly different. The COVID-19 pandemic, while looming, hadn’t yet become serious enough to force us all to shelter-at-home. It would be months before thousands of well-intentioned activists and allies took to the streets to demand Police Reform and insist that Black Lives Matter, in the wake of police brutality. For the last several months, people have suffered at the hands of inaccessible healthcare, armed violence, institutional racism, and transmisogyny. But the solidarity of activists, and the spirit of resistance that has taken over our streets kept us hopeful.
And so did the submissions that trickled in for the 2020 Own Voices Chapbook Prize. We read work that was evocative, challenging, confrontational, vulnerable, funny, mournful, and optimistic. We had the opportunity to be acquainted with writers who are not just reimagining the scope of form and language, but also the literary landscape. We are grateful for the trust that was levied upon us throughout this process.
After weeks of difficulty, we were able to draw up a longlist of writers whose work will be in final consideration for the prize. Here are the finalists:
not without small joys by Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah
Querencia by María José Giménez
Balikbayan by Dujie Tahat
Star Sings Her Lament by Crystal Yeung
BINT by Ghinwa Jawhari
Spells Of My Name by Itiola Jones
Creation Myth by Sreshtha Sen
There is Still Singing in the Afterlife by JinJin Xu
How To Eat The Stars by Moncho Alvarado
Syren by Keenan Smith
Abyss Worn Toward Future by Joseph Jang
Dark Boy Remaining by Marlin Figgins
Now I Have No Book Of Dreams by Sara Elkamel
Partition Homes by Sneha Subramanian
Our Orchards Weep in Silence by Huma Sheikh
Time Regime by Jhani Randhawa
Twerkable Moments by Jason Crawford
MY BODY IS A DREAM I AM TRYING TO BECOME by Sanna Wani
Discoball Heart by Aimee Seu
Rome Reaction by Emily Spencer
Light Was by Joumana Altallal
We congratulate all the finalists, and want to thank all the writers whose brilliant work kept us on our toes. We hope you will submit your work to us again, and that we are able to publish many more of you.
The Own Voices Chapbook Prize winners will be announced in August.