Victoria Chang has won the 2023 Chowdhury Prize in Literature, the prestigious international award given to a mid-career writer both for their body of work and for their future potential to make important literary works. Chang, a poet and writer who serves as Core Faculty in the Antioch MFA in Creative Writing, will officially receive the prize, which comes with a $20,000 purse, at a gala at USC on April 18.
“It’s such an honor to receive the Chowdhury Prize in Literature,” says Chang, “because it is a prize that acknowledges the work I’ve made but also really focuses on the future, on possibility.”
Chang has built an acclaimed body of work across six poetry collections as well as a memoir, an anthology, and two children’s books. “Nuanced, insightful and unrelenting, her writing walks the line between her personal experience and the core humanity we all share,” explains the prize’s administrator, the noted critic David Ulin, in his explanation of why she received the prize.
Chang’s 2020 collection, OBIT, won or was a finalist for many of the most prestigious writing awards that year. Her latest collection, The Trees Witness Everything, was named one of the Best Books of 2022 by The New Yorker and The Guardian. A new book of poems, With My Back to the World, will be published in 2024.
The prize’s namesakes and endowers, Subir and Malini Chowdhury, pointed both to Chang’s literary excellence and to her service to the wider literary community in a statement on behalf of their foundation. “She is an outstanding poet and an adventurous writer, as well as an exemplary literary citizen,” they said. “Victoria Chang’s career epitomizes the commitment and engagement the prize aspires to honor.”
Chang’s devotion to the concept of literary citizenship has guided her leadership in Antioch’s MFA, where she served as Chair from 2019-2021. During that time, she presided over the founding of the LitCit Podcast and helped perpetuate the program’s motto, “Community Not Competition.” She also brings this focus to her role as last year’s Poetry Editor for the New York Times, where she has made a point of elevating new and previously overlooked voices.
“I think of literary citizenship as very simply just remembering that even when you’re writing anything, you’re not writing only in a vacuum,” she said in an interview on Antioch’s Seed Field Podcast. As she explained, “You’re not writing just for yourself and for the benefits of yourself. You’re a part of a larger community that you should try and give back to in some way.”
The poet David St. John, who was involved in awarding the prize, says that Chang embodies these values in all of her work. As he says, “She is one of our most public champions of the crucial importance of poetry in the life of contemporary culture.”
The Chowdhury Prize in Literature is presented by the University of Southern California Dornsife English Department in collaboration with Kenyon College and The Kenyon Review. It was judged by Ulin; the novelist Viet Nguyen; poet Nicole Terez Dutton; poet and prose writer Maggie Nelson; and the poet, playwright, and essayist Claudia Rankine.
Encouraged by this prize, Chang looks forward to the literary works she has yet to write. As she says, “The Chowdhury Prize in Literature provides that important gentle hand on my back to keep going, to keep putting words together in interesting ways, to keep trying to translate the human experience, my own unique personal experiences.”