Jennifer Huang Wins the 2021 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry

Milkweed Staff — 06/30/2021


Milkweed Editions is thrilled to announce that Jennifer Huang has won the 2021 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry. For their poetry collection Return Flight, selected by Jos Charles, Huang will receive $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions in January 2022.

Jennifer Huang was born in Maryland to Taiwanese immigrants and has since called many places her home. Their poems have appeared in POETRY, The Rumpus, and Narrative Magazine, among other places; and they have received recognition from the Academy of American Poets, North American Taiwan Studies Association, and more. In 2020, Huang earned their MFA in Poetry at the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program.

After learning they had won the prize, Huang reflected:

“Winning the Ballard Spahr Prize means so much to me. Because the beginnings of this manuscript started in 2013, winning has offered me closure to these particular years of my life. The prize and publication also means that I get to honor all of the people, communities, experiences, and homes that made this book possible. Most significantly: Michigan, where many of these poems were written and edited, and my community here. This has been the first place that has felt quiet enough for me to ground, heal, and gain the courage to say what I have always wanted to say. Lastly, winning the prize has allowed me to dream bigger and envision other possibilities for my life—getting more time to write, imagining a career in teaching, thinking of my next collection, and more. I’ve always dreamed of having a book published, but never thought it would come so soon. I feel truly heartened, honored, and grateful for this opportunity—I still can’t believe it!”

In her prize judgment for the winning collection, Jos Charles wrote:

“There is such a thing as vulnerability, not of the personal, but of the unsaid: a strength in testifying to contradiction, overflowing occurrence, like saying something that surprises even yourself or a fleeing that returns. Return Flight is an attentive but effulgent but joyously aching book. Its lines dig inward and cling even as they unfold outward in excess and surprise. ‘What pain is the desire for pain?’ one poem asks. ‘Many visitors lately,’ another begins, ‘I wake to an ache in my sternum.’ Huang’s lines can move like that, with, sonically, crystalline compactness, while directly the reader with cinematic clarity of scene and the delights of recontextualization. ‘I wanted this poem to be about dropping textbooks on my arm to get out of practicing violin’ is an actual—how carefully it discloses—opening line. And while there is much to mourn, and Return Flight does mourn, it never gives into despair, the unsaid of parting, things never touching—but offers in its place a poetics of gentle, real, expansive touching. It comes back around and leads us out: like a ‘window you turn to and notice outside two papayas touching.’ Return Flight is a book that aligns itself with pleasure. Burrow inside.”

We are also pleased to acknowledge the finalists for this year’s prize:

Kimberly Blaeser, for Ancient Light
Stephanie Glazier, for Of Fish & Country
Alison Powell, for Boats in the Attic
Monica Rico, for Pinion

We look forward to publishing Return Flight in January 2022. Please join us in congratulating Jennifer!