2023 UNT Rilke Prize
Smoking the Bible
Chris Abani's Smoking the Bible (Copper Canyon Press) has won the 2023 UNT Rilke Prize. The $10,000 prize
recognizes a book written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year that demonstrates
exceptional artistry and vision. Abani will visit UNT in October 4-5, 2023 for a reading and book signing.
In his most recent collection, Smoking the Bible, Chris Abani memorializes--through the imaginative journey that
poems so often take--a brother who has been given the diagnosis of "Terminal." Alongside this commitment to
elegize a loved one is a second voyage. Often in brief portraits, poems diminutive as carved cameos, Abani writes
of migrations to new countries and continents, of leaving behind a homeland that is both "wound and suture," a
lost landscape whose "persistent aftertaste" follows the speaker everywhere he goes. Smoking the Bible is a book
intent on understanding nostalgia, a word that burns with pain and grief, but one that also suggests the "flutter
of release." Evocative, rich with sensory detail, Abani's poems transport the reader from Nigeria to America's
Midwest, ranging between memory, dream, and revelatory vision. At its heart, Smoking the Bible worries about
acts of translation, how difficult it is to translate languages and cultures. And, beyond that, how we struggle to
translate the past into present. "I promise / to walk with you as far as I can," the speaker tells his dying brother,
the space between death and the living the most difficult translation of all.
Click here for more information about our UNT Rilke prize winner.