Further Validation of Prestigious First Book Award for Virginia Tech Alumnus | VTX
Like most people living in a pandemic world, Anuradha Bhowmik works from her home in Philadelphia, using technology to communicate and complete her daily tasks.
One afternoon in early January, on a midweek business call, she received an email from the director of the University of Pittsburgh Press with “Starrett Prize” in the subject line. A full-time student counselor by day and writer by night, Bhowmik had submitted a collection of her poems to the publisher in hopes of winning the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.
In the past, many emails regarding his written submissions had served as his rejection letters.
Not this time.
Bhowmik, who earned an MFA from Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Humanities in 2018, has been selected as the winner of the 2021 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize – an award given to a poet writing in English who did not have a complete book of poetry published. Her collection, titled “Brown Girl Chromatography,” was selected by Aaron Smith, an award-winning poet and former Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize winner who served as a judge for this year’s competition.
“I certainly didn’t expect it,” she said, “but it made my year.”
The award was not the first for Bhowmik, who received her undergraduate degree in women’s and gender studies from the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 2015. Her poetry has won her awards and scholarships from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, the Community of Writers, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center of Provincetown, Frost Place, and the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, among others. Additionally, his poetry and prose have appeared in numerous national publications.
But this prize is probably the most prestigious. She won a grand prize of $5,000, and the University of Pittsburgh Press plans to publish her collection as part of its Pitt Poetry series later this fall.
“I’m not surprised that Anuradha won because she was incredibly talented and successful even as an MFA student,” said Erika Meitner, poet and professor in Virginia Tech’s English department. , who was Bhowmik’s thesis supervisor. “The average in our field is about seven years after graduation to publish a first book. She’s ahead of the game and she had a ton of publications as a grad student when she was here. She has published more work during her MFA student career than any other student we have had in the program. She has always been very successful, she is really motivated and very talented.
Bhowmik writes primarily autobiographically, focusing on the life experiences that shaped her as an American girl born in Bangladesh and raised in South Jersey. “Brown Girl Chromatography” examines issues such as race, class, gender and sexuality in a post-9/11 world.
“His is an interesting manuscript in that it did not shy away from tackling intense questions about family history and dynamics, immigration, acculturation, race, class and gender,” said Meitner said. “She just writes very intensely and beautifully and convincingly about all these things.”
Bhowmik started writing around the age of 9. She described herself as “really nerdy”, wearing glasses and braces, and that, along with being from Bangladesh and living in a predominantly white community, left her feeling isolated. The September 11 attacks created a common enemy for Americans, but these attacks had a negative impact on Bhowmik’s world. People wrongly viewed her and her family unfavorably because of their immigrant roots, even though they had been granted political asylum to come to the United States from Bangladesh in the late 1990s.
Introverted by nature, Bhowmik began writing as an escape.