A&S poet wins 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize

By: Kate Blackwood,  Cornell Chronicle
Wed, 06/30/2021

Valzhyna Mort, assistant professor of literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences, won the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize in the international category for her 2020 book, “Music for the Dead and Resurrected.” With the prize comes an award of $65,000 Canadian dollars ($52,500 U.S. dollars). Mort’s book was chosen from among 572 books of poetry from 14 countries, written in 18 languages.

Book cover: Music for the Dead and Resurrected

The Griffin Prize is for first edition books of poetry written in, or translated into, English and submitted from anywhere in the world. The prize was founded in 2000 to encourage and celebrate excellence in poetry.

Mort said she hopes this prize will draw new readers, not just to her book, but to poetry in general.

“Poetry has a tiny readership, and often the way to get a book onto a reader’s lap is through an award that brings the book attention,” Mort said. “I’m very grateful for all the publicity organized by the Griffin Prize.”

Published in November 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, “Music for the Dead and Resurrected” tries to find words to describe “things that escape language, things that leave us speechless,” especially in the face of loss or trauma, Mort said. Many of the poems in the collection are rooted in her birth country, Belarus.

“Belarus has a history of 250 years of political and cultural fracture,” she said. “Current events in Belarus – mass imprisonment, police kidnapping people on the street, torture in police custody, direct threats of execution – have triggered old wounds, old silences. My book speaks to these wounds.”

“Music for the Dead and Resurrected” was published in English, but Mort wrote in both English and Belarusian as she drafted the poems.

This is not the first literary prize Mort has won this year.

As recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature for 2021-2022, Mort will do a residency at the American Academy in Rome next year to work on her new book, of prose and poetry.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.


  Valzhyna Mort