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“I’m in a blissful state of shock”: April Yee and Tracey Slaughter scope Manchester Writing Competition £10,000 prizes

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Featured image and gallery: Gbemisola Elegunde

April Yee and Tracey Slaughter have won the 2023 Manchester Writing Competition, chosen from thousands of worldwide applicants.

Yee took home the top spot in the Manchester Fiction Prize, and Slaughter scooped the Manchester Poetry Prize in a gala prize-giving ceremony at the Manchester Poetry Library on Friday.

Each winner was awarded £10,000 in prize money for their winning entries in front of their fellow shortlisted writers, judges, and members of the public who convened at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Grosvenor East building for the ceremony.

Founded in 2008 by Carol Ann Duffy, the competition has become the country’s most established awards for unpublished literature, with more than £220,000 given to its successful prizewinners over the years.

A few shortlisted writers joined online for the ceremony and this year, which was the first time the event has ever been live-streamed.

Reflecting on the competition, Duffy said: “It’s an incredible achievement for the writing school to have kept this going for fifteen years, to have supported so many writers from all over the world.

“I thought the standards of this year’s entries were incredible and it’s been very difficult to pick winners so I’m really grateful to all the judges and it’s exciting to know that we can carry on doing it again and again and again. Before we know it, we’ll be at 20 years [of the competition]. It’s been a wonderful event.”

Matthew Frost and James Draper. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

The gala was hosted by James Draper, International Lead for the Department of English at the Manchester Writing School, and Matthew Frost, former board of trustees member for the Manchester Literature Festival.

Draper and Frost introduced the ceremony with an entertaining repartee, while noting the achievements of all those shortlisted and in attendance.

During the speeches, Draper shared that “almost a quarter of a million pounds has been awarded to writers” by the Manchester Writing Competition over the past fifteen years.

He added “Manchester is a global city of writers” and described the Manchester Writing Competition “as a family”. 

The night fell into its comfortable reputation as an enriching and rewarding ceremony as the first Fiction Prize readings ensued with Dayal Kindy’s ‘Dolby Rests in Peace’. This was followed by Edward Hogan’s ‘Home Work’ and David McGrath’s ‘I Fell In Love With My Documentary Crew’.

David McGrath. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

Ahead of the ceremony, McGrath spoke to aAh! about how it feels to be shortlisted. He said: “It feels fantastic to be shortlisted, to be a writer and go through the trials and tribulations, I allow myself feelings of elation every now and then and this news of being shortlisted was certainly one of those moments.

The first run of poetry finalists then took to the stage and screen, with Shakeema Edwards, Elena Croitoru and D A Angelo, reading snippets of their shortlisted work.

Speaking before the ceremony, Edwards shared an insight into the themes surrounding her shortlisted poems: “[The poems] I submitted the Prize are part of my dissertation so I’ve spent the summer writing these poems and they’re centred around themes of parenthood, motherhood, matrilineal heritage.”

Shakeema Edwards. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

Peter Ramm, winner of the 2021 Manchester Poetry Prize, joined on screen midway through the ceremony to share his experience with fellow shortlisted writers. 

He told the packed crowd: “It’s wonderful to be with you this evening and my huge congratulations to everybody, it’s a wonderful recognition of your work.”

He added: “I am eternally grateful to all those at the Manchester Metropolitan University and the Manchester Writing School for the opportunities that this prize gave me as a launchpad for my own writing and my career [since winning the competition].”

Peter Ramm. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

The audience then heard from the second round of fiction writers, led by Chloë Philp’s ‘We Have Made Your Bed Now Lie In It’. This was followed by Nicholas Petty’s ‘Close Your Eyes’ and April Yee’s ‘Still Blue Thing’.

Speaking to aAh! about how it felt to be shortlisted, Philps said: “[It] feels completely overwhelming and not something I expected, but I’m really excited to be here today.”

Yee, who was shortlisted last year for her poetry, shared her excitement about attending for the second year in a row: “I’ve already been through the experience of shortlisting, like a lot of the pressure is off.

“I can just sit here and really enjoy the other readings of the other finalists’ and enjoy getting to read my work here tonight.”

Chloë Philp. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

The final trio of poets included Clare Shaw reading for Debra Marquart, Tracey Slaughter, and Katie O’Pray, each reading excerpts from their shortlisted portfolios.

O’Pray expressed their sheer gratitude to aAh! in being shortlisted this year: “I started surrounding myself with poetry, I entered a few competitions, received commendations and shortlists and then won. It’s a big honour, I think I’m still taking it in. it’s so fulfilling to be recognised at this level, I’m very proud.”

Draper and Frost wrapped up the readings by introducing Manchester Poetry Prize chair and judge Malika Booker to the stage to share her admiration and pride in the talent of this year’s shortlisted poets. 

Reading a speech on behalf of Booker, Professor Andrew McMillan said: “What united these shortlisted portfolios was their remarkable singularity, the poems we chose both attempt to and break form. 

“Their language dances on the page with dizzying dexterity. History, violence, wit and tenderness follow from these poems, these poems ask you as an audience to have heard them as recitations that disrupt our expectations at every turn. These are risk-taking poems that are irrepressible in their varying approaches. They grab you and pull you in, they peel layers, slowly they echo.

“With repeated readings through repeated readings, they possess you, with the way they luminate the mundane and spectacular. These poems confront and confound your expectations, your defences, revealing by rendering something new in each reading. This year we had such an exceptional selection of poems. A special thanks to the long-listed poets.”

Lara Williams, author and lecturer in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School then extended her commendation and excitement in this year’s shortlisted fiction stories.

Judge Lara Williams. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

She said: “Thank you to all the readers who’ve read their work this evening. I feel like I know these stories so well that they still felt kind of revealing, you know, it felt like I was learning something new about them. They retain the ability to be surprising even if I’ve read the stories ten, eleven, twelve times. 

“The standard of the stories submitted this year, I cannot emphasise this enough, the standard was absurdly high and all of the shortlisted stories, I really believe, are some of the best examples of the form that you’re likely to come across. 

“It’s been so hard to make a decision. We spent a great deal of time turning over each of the stories and enthusing on their many respective qualities. When it has a physical impact on you, when the language is so precise, so inventive, so exciting, it feels exhilarating and you can actually feel your heart beating a little faster. All of the shortlisted stories, I feel, have had this impact on us as judges.”

The time then arrived for the winners of the Manchester Poetry Prize and the Manchester Fiction Prize to be revealed. Carol Ann Duffy announced: “The winner of the 2023 Manchester Poetry Prize is Tracey Slaughter.” This was shortly accompanied by “the winner of the 2023 Manchester Fiction Prize is April Yee”. The crowd clapped and cheered as the highly anticipated winners accepted their cash prize and settled into their glory.

Tracey Slaughter. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

Slaughter, shocked and elated, told the audience: “I am completely dumbstruck, third time’s a charm. I really cannot believe it. 

“This [Fiction] piece arrived like a detonation, it came from a place of overload, really, it’s been you’re having to dig right down into the past traumas and my chronic pain condition, so it’s been a hard journey to make and this just gives me total faith that I’m on the right track. 

“I’m so intensely grateful to everyone involved with the [Manchester Writing Competition] Prize, I’m in outright awe of the judges and of all the other writers whose work is just so beautiful. It’s been such an honour to share and I’m in a blissful state of shock, so, thank you so so much to you all, thank you.”

Yee, delighted and relieved, told the crowd: “I’m glad we were asked to write comments in advance. Thank you to Manchester Met for bringing us together and to the judges for awarding my work. This prize will enable me to craft more stories. 

April Yee. Photography: Gbemisola Elegunde

“I’m grateful for the freedom to write about pregnancy at a time when fifty-thousand pregnant Palestinians and many more parents and children are under direct threat of bombs, famine, disease and displacement. The military assault which multiple governments have performed or enabled has forced Palestinians to have caesareans without anaesthesia, babies to die alone and entire families to perish under rubble. 

“Through writing we exist and resist, I owe thanks to my teachers who showed me the risk of a short story, these words came into being because of support from University of East Anglia, Arts Council England and Mahler & LeWitt Studios, the patience of my beautiful and brilliant writing friends and the strength of my family and ancestors who existed so that I could.”

Upon being asked how it felt to have hosted the Manchester Writing Competition on its 15 year anniversary, Manchester Poetry Prize judge Clare Shaw said: “It feels fantastic, I grew up in Lancashire and Manchester was my nearest city and Manchester’s played a really pivotal role in my poetry career.

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“I’ve studied at the Manchester Writing School and my friends are from the Manchester poetry scene so if I had a poetry home it is Manchester.

Fiction prize judge Lara Williams then shared her favourite moment: “It was definitely hearing Carol Ann Duffy announce the winner, April Yee. I absolutely adored her story, it was in my original judging pile, I can still remember the moment that I read it and the emotional impact it had on me. 

“To hear her speech: really important issues regarding the ongoing conflict in Palestine, it really felt like we’d definitely chosen the right person who’s going to be doing some really exciting and important things with the prize money.”

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Georgia Pearson

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