Creative Writing Lecturer, Andrew McMillan, has become the first poet to win the Guardian First Book Award with Physical, a ‘breathtaking’ collection that explores modern male anxiety in settings from the gym to northern industrial towns.
Andrew is the first poet to win the £10,000 prize since it began in 1999, replacing the Guardian Fiction Prize. The award is unique in judging first-time works of fiction alongside those of non-fiction and is the only literary award that rewards first-time writers in all genres.
The Guardian’s Books Editor, Claire Armitstead, chaired the judging panel and hailed the first win for poetry in the prize’s 17-year history, commenting that it was only the second time a poet has made the shortlist.
She added: “It’s a thrilling development for us as poetry so rarely breaks through in generalist prizes. Andrew McMillan’s breathtaking collection shows that good poetry can and does still enlarge, replenish and delight. It surprised us all with the best sort of ambush, emerging from an extremely strong and vibrant shortlist as the unanimously agreed winner.”
Claire was joined on the panel by broadcaster Emily Maitlis, critic Alex Clark and historian Tom Holland, along with Waterstones’ Stuart Broom, who was the voice of the five reading groups, from Edinburgh, Leeds, Lewis, Manchester and London, which voted for the prize shortlist.
Commenting on his win, Andrew said: “It’s a genuine shock and a thrill to win the Guardian First Book Award- the first time poetry has ever won the award. There were novels on the shortlist that had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize so I really felt one of those would win. For poetry to get such recognition in a non-poetry national prize is wonderful - hopefully more people will read poetry as a result! I still haven’t quite got my head around it, or digested the news, but it feels wonderful and hopefully both the poetry world and LJMU will be boosted by the announcement as well."
Physical was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and is shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Prize.