Jason Allen-Paisant Wins TS Eliot Prize for ‘Self-Portrait As Othello’

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Self Portrait As Othello Jason Allen-Paisant book cover, showing a man in white holding a sword on a red floral background surounded by a picture frame.

Jason Allen-Paisant, a Jamaican writer and Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester, won the prestigious TS Eliot Prize 2023 for his outstanding and thought-provoking collection of poems, Self-Portrait As Othello. The award, acknowledging his poignant exploration of Black masculinity and immigrant identity, further lauded the work for its remarkable “nerve, style, and integrity.”

The £25,000 prize, hailed as Britain’s most lucrative poetry award, annually crowns the best new poetry collection published in the UK and Ireland. Past laureates include literary giants such as Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Alice Oswald, and Carol Ann Duffy.

Last year’s winner was British-Trinidadian poet and novelist Anthony Joseph for his autobiographical collection Sonnets for Albert, exploring the impact of growing up with an absent father.

The Jamaica-born-poet, 44, was announced as the winner of the prize on 15 January at the Wallace Collection in London, where the judging panel, comprised of poets Paul Muldoon, Sasha Dugdale, and Denise Saul, commended Self-Portrait As Othello for its “great imaginative capacity, freshness, and technical flair.”

The collection’s theatrical delivery and its evocative connection between Shakespeare’s Othello and contemporary Black immigrant experiences left a lasting impression on the judges. They expressed confidence that readers would revisit the work for years to come.

Jason Allen-Paisant surpassed 186 poetry submissions from British and Irish publishers and was chosen out of 10 shortlisted writers who each received a £1,500 cheque. He became emotional receiving the award, describing it as “a big, big deal”. He highlighted his remarkable journey, from a rural Jamaican upbringing to becoming the first in his family to attain A levels and attend university.

Speaking with the BBC, he conveyed his overwhelming feelings, saying, “I’m only a little country boy from Jamaica. I’ve travelled far to get here… So when you consider that, there’s nothing about this that is likely.”

Jason Allen-Paisant’s literary accomplishments extend beyond the TS Eliot Prize. His first collection, Thinking with Trees, earned him the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for poetry. Self-Portrait As Othello, besides winning the Forward Prize for Best Collection, secured a spot on the Writers’ Prize shortlist. His upcoming non-fiction book, Scanning the Bush, will be published by Hutchinson Heinemann later this year.

Self-Portrait As Othello delves into the poet’s quest for identity, particularly his absent father, offering a poignant self-exploration. It spans diverse geographies and eras, seamlessly weaving voices in French, Jamaican Patois, Italian, and German, exploring the complexities of masculinity and celebrating the maternal, resonating with Caribbean familial themes.

As Jason Allen-Paisant joins the ranks of distinguished TS Eliot Prize winners, his impact on the literary world is poised to last forever. Beyond poetry, he is set to release a memoir, The Possibility of Tenderness, in 2025, promising more insights into his diverse storytelling.

Words by Khushboo Malhotra


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