Jamaican poet Jason Allen-Paisant has won the prestigious TS Eliot Prize for his book Self-Portrait as Othello.
The judges described his work as full of nerve, style and integrity “to which readers will return for many years”.
Allen-Paisant teaches critical theory and creative writing at the University of Manchester. His first non-fiction book will be published later this year.
He was presented with the KSh. 5.07M (£25,000) award at a ceremony in London celebrating the poetry prize’s 30th anniversary.
The 43-year-old writer and academic was visibly emotional as he accepted the prize in front of industry peers.
He told the media afterwards that he felt overwhelmed upon hearing he had won, calling it “a big, big deal”.
“I’m only a little country boy from Jamaica. I’ve travelled far to get here,” he shared, adding that he is the first person in his family to have attained A levels and gone to university.
“So when you consider that, there’s nothing about this that is likely.”
Allen-Paisant harks from a small rural agricultural district called Manchester in Jamaica, where growing up “we didn’t even have electricity and running water”. His mother is a retired primary school teacher. But the poet has never met his father.
“My father has never been in the picture. In fact, a lot of my book is about my relationship or search for relationship with my absent father. There’s a lot to say about that.”
Leeds-based Allen-Paisant’s second collection uses Shakespeare’s Othello to explore a black male immigrant’s search for an identity and masculine role model. It has been positively received by numerous critics.
Allen-Paisant first arrived in the UK in 2011 to attend Merton College at Oxford University which he called “transformative” and where a professor-mentor first encouraged him to explore his ideas around Othello further.
His first poetry collection, Thinking with Trees, scooped the poetry category for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in 2022.
Chair of judges, Paul Muldoon, who has previously won the TS Eliot prize, and fellow judges Sasha Dugdale and Denise Saul, said: “Self-Portrait as Othello is a book with large ambitions that are met with great imaginative capacity, freshness and technical flair.
“As the title would suggest, the poetry is delivered with theatricality and in a range of voices and registers, across geographies and eras.”
The TS Eliot Prize is awarded annually to the best new poetry collection published in the UK and Ireland.
Previous winners also include Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, former poet laureate Ted Hughes, Alice Oswald, and Carol Ann Duffy.