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Writer in Residence: Vahni Capildeo

Vahni Capildeo. Photo credit: Adrian Pope.

The Department of English and Related Literature is delighted to host Vahni Capildeo as our Writer in Residence, 2020 to 2022. 

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Vahni earned their DPhil in Old Norse literature and translation theory as a Rhodes Scholar at Christ Church, University of Oxford. They are one of the most exciting contemporary poets, and highly influential as a writer, commentator, and performer.

Capildeo’s poems engage themes of geographic, intimate, and linguistic distances and proximities. Their books include No Traveller Returns (2003), Utter (2013), Measures of Expatriation (2016), which won the 2016 Forward Prize for Best Collection, Venus as a Bear (2018), Skin Can Hold (2019), and Odyssey Calling (2020), a pamphlet written partly during a stormy night on Lindisfarne.

Selecting Measures of Expatriation for the Forward Prize, the judging panel chair Malika Booker stated: "We found a vertiginous excitement in the way in which the book grasps its subject: the sense of never quite being at home. This is poetry that transforms. When people in the future seek to know what it’s like to live between places, traditions, habits and cultures, they will read this."

Measures of Expatriation. Cover art: Elspeth Duncan. Book Design: Luke Allan.

Vahni works closely with students and staff in English, contributing in dynamic and innovative ways across our syllabus and offering students unrivalled opportunities to develop their creative writing and expression beyond the formal curriculum. They host varied and important speakers as part of our ‘Writers at York’ series, and work with students to create striking poetry performances for a wide public.

Vahni loves interdisciplinary and multimedia collaborations: enjoy a luminous example of their ongoing photometry project with Andre Bagoo. This accompanies Light Site (Periplum Poetry, forthcoming 2020), a pamphlet of expanded translations.

You can also explore the immersive theatre of 'Azure Noise and Kinetic Syntax', which initiated their engagement with active silence and unfurled into Odyssey Calling (Sad Press, 2020).

Vahni's residency opens on the theme of 'Silence, Crisis and Excess'. A first offering is a series of 'slow readings': Friday listening to counteract the 'surround sound' of pandemic panic with the beauty of words in 'surround silence'.

An excerpt from 'Gift of a Staircase'

For the sake of clarity, which is the blackout, whaleback, salient and misguiding aspect of what I now hope to assay, I desire you to accept of me this staircase. I desire it for you in the diminishing of every association of staircase with birdcage. I desire you attentive to the unpicking of your own ribcage. I desire you vertiginous if you rise, if you walk, if you remain. I desire with you ascent.

From ‘Gift of a Staircase’, Utter (Peepal Tree, 2013)

Previous Writers in Residence

Previous Writers in Residence have included:

Previous residencies were generously funded by our alumnus, John Martin Tilney and his wife, Maura.