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St. Louis poet Alison Rollins wins national poetry prize

Poet Alison Rollins
Provided by Alison Rollins
Poet Alison Rollins

“I realized fairly recently that I have to write. I am a poet and I claim that and it is a necessity. The same way I breathe, the same way I blink, it must be done.” Alison Rollins.

St. Louis poet Alison Rollins has won a prestigious 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship for young poets. 

The award is one of the largest national awards available to young poets. It provides winners with $25,800 to support their craft and continue pursuing a writing career. Rollins works as a librarian at Nerinx Hall High School, writes, and pursues a library sciences degree full time.

Each year the Ruth Lilly prize goes to five poets under 31 years of age. Rollins, 29, said she stands out as a kind of “underdog” from some of the other winners who have either published their first collection of poems or have a first book forthcoming.  St. Louis Public Radio caught up with Rollins after the award’s announcement and asked her to reflect on her writing and the award. 

Rollins on winning the Ruth Lilly award:

“I hope that I am relatable and that there’s some other young woman out there who through me sees an opportunity. I definitely grew up a young black girl in the city. I never imagined that I would be able to merge being able to write with having a career, like being able to pay my bills and still produce as an artist.”

Her writing:

“I think my writing deals with what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a woman of color. On a more universal scale, as human beings, maybe the trauma that we mentally hold or physically hold in our bodies. What it means to overcome fear. What it means to challenge the status quo. “

Why poetry awards matter to non-poets:

“As poets you try to imagine a better sense of what we could be as a society and you try to complicate and play with language, the limitations of language and the ways those limitations can be exposed. And then push [language] into new realms that aren’t maybe even allowed in everyday speech.”

The award’s potential influence in the broader poetry community:

“There are still so many voices that are going unheard, or so many persons that creatively feel invisible. So if this can serve as a catalyst in any capacity to bring greater attention to this region, to areas where people are operating off the grid but still have something to contribute, I hope that it does so.”

Rollin’s writings can be found online and in the publications Poetry, River Styx, and Vinyl.

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