Tyree Daye, a lecturer in poetry in UNC’s Creative Writing Program in the English & Comparative Literature Department, is one of this year’s Whiting Award recipients, a prestigious $50,000 award supporting the work of talented emerging writers. Daye’s first collection of poetry River Hymns has also received the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize.
Since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has supported creative writing through the Whiting Awards, given annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. The honor is awarded to recipients based on “early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come.” This year’s recipients join a storied and accomplished lineage of great writers also awarded a Whiting prize, including Tony Kushner, Terrance Hayes, Yiyun Lee, and Tracy K. Smith.
Daye’s work is praised for its exceptional clarity, in both his poetic language and in his world-creation. From the Whiting selection committee, his “pictures of a river life are strung together in language that is clear, lucid, unexpected, and often unforgettable: image-making of the highest order.” A selection from one of his poems, “Tamed,” is reproduced below, and his attention to his craft through language is remarkable.
There are moments you can hear God
say things soft-spoken, the sun
settling between thin pines.
Collected crickets in 2 liter bottles,
dropped them on a path far from the house
one or two at the bottom drowning
in the last swig of cola, the smell of mama’s
leaf pile faint and almost gone.
My mama would say
to kill a cricket
is a sin against the night.
Daye says the Whiting Award will allow him more time to focus on his writing, he says “I can take the summer off.” Moreover, though, he is “just excited to join [a] stellar list of artists.” He is currently working on Cardinal, a book of poetry to be published by Copper Canyon Press in 2020 and has works published in Prairie Schooner, New York Times, and the Nashville Review, among others.
By Carly Schnitzler, UNC English and comparative literature