NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: The Bookseller (by Melina Spanoudi).
Anthony Anaxagorou has won the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize 2023, for his “fearless, honest and ultimately hopeful” collection Heritage Aesthetics (Granta Poetry), which draws from his family’s migratory histories.
The prize is one of 10 annual awards and prizes presented by The Royal Society of Literature (RSL). It is awarded to an outstanding work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes the spirit of a place.
Anaxagorou was announced as the winner of the prestigious prize by Jans Ondaatje Rolls on behalf of the prize founder and funder, Sir Christopher Ondaatje at an event at Two Temple Place on 10th May. He is a British-born Cypriot poet, fiction writer, essayist, publisher and poetry educator.
His second collection, After the Formalities (Penned in the Margins) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, shortlisted for the 2019 T S Eliot Prize, and was a Telegraph and Guardian poetry book of the year. He is also artistic director of Out-Spoken, a monthly poetry and music night held at London’s Southbank Centre, and publisher of Out-Spoken Press.
First awarded in 2004, the premise and broad remit of the prize aims to create unique lists of works and authors that you would not usually find sitting side by side. Previous recipients of the prize have included Aida Edemariam, Ruth Gilligan and Hisham Matar. Last year’s winner was Lea Ypi with Free (Allen Lane), a coming-of-age memoir set amid political upheaval in Albania.
Winner Anaxagorou was selected from this year’s five-strong shortlist by judges Samira Ahmed (chair), Roger Robinson and Joelle Taylor.
Ahmed, who is chair of the judges, said: “Anthony’s poetry is beautiful, but does not sugarcoat. The arsenic of historical imperial arrogance permeates the Britain he explores in his writing. And the joy of this collection comes from his strength, knowledge, maturity, but also from deeply felt love.”
Robinson added: “With Heritage Aesthetics Anthony Anaxagorou lets the narrative of the poems fracture as if somehow there has been a traumatic event, and that fracture became a form by deconstruction of texts and literatures to make comment not only on them but also on the fact that Cyprus has been shaped by 2,000 years of colonial rule. A colonial rule that has caused multiple fractures in the nation’s identity, problematising the idea of familial identity but also how colonial histories have shaped that identity; a lineage of family but also a lineage of suffering under Empire.
“Most books dealing with the immigrant experience look back at their country of origin with longing, and mythologising their origin country, but Anaxogorou’s book maintains a strong tone, critique and assessment. A welcome addition to the literature canon of place.”
Taylor commented: “A book that pushes the confines of form and language to locate a new aesthetic with which to address the legacies of colonisation. A tour guide, an archive, a personal meditation on belonging.”