West Newbury poet receives Whiting Award

Courtesy photo/Savuth ThorWest Newbury resident and Dominican American poet Diannely Antigua is one of 10 recipients of the 2020 Whiting Award.

WEST NEWBURY — Dominican American poet and North Shore native Diannely Antigua is one of 10 recipients of the 2020 Whiting Award, a prestigious $50,000 grant presented to a select few promising writers to help further their craft.

Antigua, 30, was nominated for the award for her debut poetry collection, "Ugly Music." The collection, published by YesYes Books in May 2019, was also the winner of the Pamet River Prize.

The Whiting Award, which is presented annually by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, does not have an application process.

Instead, nominators, who are handpicked from across the country, are invited to propose a single candidate. From there, a selection committee narrows the pool to 10 emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry.

Antigua has known she was a recipient of the Whiting Award for a few months now, but had to keep it hush until the official announcement March 25. While she does not know who nominated her and her work, she expressed her thanks, saying, "It was so unexpected and I am just so grateful for it."

Antigua, raised in Haverhill, graduated high school a year early and began attending Northern Essex Community College at age 16. 

"I didn't even drive myself to school as my siblings had to take me," she said. "I was truly a child in every since of the word."

After receiving her associate degree in liberal arts in 2009, Antigua went on to earn her bachelor of arts in English from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and her master of fine arts from New York University. 

With social isolation due to the coronavirus, Antigua is especially thankful for the timing of the award. The West Newbury resident works as a food server and substitute teacher, both of which she cannot do remotely.

"This award really came at the best time for me in a sense that now I have some security that I can rely on," she said, "and I don't need to worry as much about the day-to-day expenses that I probably would not be able to afford considering the pandemic and not being able to work."

Beyond the money, Antigua is looking forward to "the opportunities attached to it" — the resources and contacts with literary agents and other writers. When the public is safe to explore again, she is looking forward to setting aside some foundation money to travel and take her writing to "the next level." 

"I have found that when I'm out of my element, in a different place, not at home, I do my best writing," she said.

Antigua added that she thinks most artists have "some level of impostor syndrome," which she feels regularly.

"This award has given me the opportunity to just step back and re-evaluate all the work that I've done to get to this place," she said, adding that it validates that "I am a writer, I'm good at what I do and I'm on the right path."

In discussing some of her influences and favorite poets, Antigua cited Sharon Olds, a professor she had at NYU who writes a lot about the body, particularly the female body.

"She's not afraid to go to intimate places and I find that to be just so bold, brave, courageous, and I really want to imitate that," Antigua said.

She also named Ada Limón, another NYU alumna. "She has the ability to write about difficult topics but still provide the reader with a bit of hope and I find that to be just so inspiring."

Antigua, who describes her own writing as "sexy, sad poetry," said "I've been trying to embrace more joyous moments in my poetry."

When asked her advice for aspiring writers, Antigua said, "Let yourself grow into who you are supposed to be. Grow into your voice. I think that's so important. My voice has changed significantly since I started writing poetry and at first, that was really frightening."

Antigua's poems can be found in publications that include the Washington Square Review, Bennington Review, the Adroit Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue and Sixth Finch. For more, go to https://diannelyantigua.com.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

Recommended for you