Poet Stephanie Niu awarded 2024 Vanderbilt University Literary Prize

A hand holding a pen writes in a notebook. In the corner of the image is the logo for the Vanderbilt University Literary Prize.

Vanderbilt University is pleased to announce Stephanie Niu as the inaugural winner of the Vanderbilt University Literary Prize.

A panel of jurists selected Niu’s I Would Define the Sun, a collection of poems about resisting scarcity through language.

Stephanie Niu

The Vanderbilt University Literary Prize was launched earlier this year in celebration of the institution’s Sesquicentennial. It will be awarded annually to the sole author of a full-length collection of poetry that demonstrates great poignancy combined with rigor in form, language and artistic vision. The contest drew more than 300 entries.

A collaboration of Vanderbilt’s Office of the Chancellor, Vanderbilt University Press and Vanderbilt’s English Department and MFA in Creative Writing Program, the contest seeks to recognize works of poetry whose originality is immediately identifiable in how the book renews our relationship to language; delves into underexplored areas of human experience; and makes claims on our lives that are urgent and aesthetic while also enacting historical, social, literary, political or spiritual awareness.

“At this moment of global political upheaval, dizzying technological advancement and general uncertainty, literature—and poetry in particular—is unmatched in its ability to help us pause and reflect deeply on our lives, our times and what it means to be human,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “My office is proud to support the Vanderbilt University Literary Prize and to affirm the importance of the literary arts at Vanderbilt. I offer my warmest congratulations to Stephanie Niu on her fine achievement, and we look forward to welcoming her to campus.”

The prize includes the publication of the winning manuscript in print, electronic and audio formats, a publishing contract with Vanderbilt University Press, a $10,000 honorarium, an invitation to read in the esteemed Gertrude C. and Harold S. Vanderbilt Reading Series at Vanderbilt University, and a one-week residency on campus to engage students and writers in the Nashville community.

Niu is a poet and writer from Marietta, Georgia. She is the author of the chapbooks Survived By: An Atlas of Disappearance (winner of the 2023 Host Publications Chapbook Prize) and She Has Dreamt Again of Water (winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest). Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, Literary Hub, Copper Nickel, Ecotone Magazine and other publications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems and a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University. She received a Fulbright scholarship for research on Christmas Island’s labor history, through which she led youth poetry workshops and published the zine Our Island, Our Future. She lives in New York City.

Niu said she’s thrilled to be the inaugural Vanderbilt University Literary Prize winner.

“It still feels surreal to have my first full-length collection honored by this prize and to know that such an esteemed group of poets, many of whom are longtime inspirations, believe in my work,” Niu said.

I Would Define the Sun is scheduled for publication in February 2025 by Vanderbilt University Press. Niu will be in residence on campus for a week in spring 2025 to engage with students, faculty and the broader community.

“I am honored to be publishing Stephanie’s collection as part of a prize that creates simultaneous print, electronic and audio editions in combination with an immersive campus residency designed to engage Vanderbilt and Nashville’s literary communities,” said Gianna Mosser, director of Vanderbilt University Press. “This type of support for the arts is a benchmark of innovative excellence in university press publishing collaborations.”

Jurists for the prize included several esteemed poets, writers, editors and educators, including Professor Major Jackson, Major Jackson, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English and director of creative writing. Jurists Victoria Chang, Dana Levin and Gregory Pardlo selected nine semifinalists. From that pool, Jackson selected the winner. Honorable mentions were awarded to Wesley Rothman’s Wanted and Samyak Shertok’s No Rhododendron.

“So much of what the prize aims to recognize and honor is represented in the talented work of poet Stephanie Niu,” Jackson said. “Contemplative and boldly expressive, Niu addresses profound questions of dwindling ecologies, desire, cultural identity and class realities. In so doing, we encounter an audacious voice who thinks by feeling. These are stark lyric poems of immense reach and perceptiveness.”

For further inquiries or information about the prize, visit vanderbilt.edu/vuliteraryprize or email VU Literary Administrator Patrick Samuel at vuliteraryprize@vanderbilt.edu.