A University of Guelph graduate has won this year’s prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for Canadian poets, and is also the youngest winner in the competition’s history.

Liz Howard, a creative writing master of fine arts (MFA) graduate, was awarded the $65,000 prize for her first book, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. She accepted the award at a ceremony June 2 in Toronto. She also received $10,000 for taking part in the Griffin Prize readings the day before, and was featured in the Globe and Mail May 31.

Liz Howard
Liz Howard

Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is also the first debut collection to win the prize.

Two of the three poets on the Canadian shortlist are U of G creative writing graduates. Alumna Soraya Peerbaye was also nominated for her collection Tell: poems for a girlhood.

Previous winners include MFA faculty member Dionne Brand. Howard’s book began as her MFA thesis under Brand’s supervision and was published last spring.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment for Liz and we are extremely proud of her,” said Prof. Catherine Bush, coordinator of the MFA program.

“We would also like to congratulate Soraya for being nominated and Dionne Brand for her leadership and mentorship of Liz.”

Begun in 2000, the annual Griffin Prize honours both a Canadian and an international author.

Howard’s poems are personal, and chronicle a childhood of poverty in a fading northern Ontario lumber town and a struggle toward knowledge.

“I sort of feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience,” said Howard, 31, to the Globe and Mail after her win was announced.

“It may seem really strange but I feel as though I actually died some time ago and [I’m] living in an afterlife.”

Howard said the prize money will allow her to pursue her passion.

“All I want to do is write. All I want to do is do this one thing. And this is such a confirmation.”