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Kaveh Akbar wins 21st annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Calling a Wolf a Wolf’

July 13, 2018

Kaveh Akbar is the winner of the 2018 Levis Reading Prize for his poetry collection “Calling a Wolf a Wolf.”

The Levis Reading Prize is awarded annually for the best first or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year and chosen by the Department of English and its MFA in Creative Writing program in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The prize honors the memory of poet Larry Levis, who served on the VCU faculty at the time of his death in 1996. Akbar will receive a $5,000 award and will read from “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at the James Branch Cabell Library, followed by a reception in his honor.

Poems by Akbar have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, The Best American Poetry, The New York Times, The Nation, and many other publications.

“Calling a Wolf a Wolf” is Akbar’s first full-length poetry collection, published in 2017 by Alice James Books in the U.S. and in 2018 by Penguin in the U.K., where it was selected as a Poetry Book Society recommendation. A nominee for the 2018 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection from the London-based Forward Arts Foundation, the collection previously received a 2018 First Horizon Award, a 2017 Julie Suk Award, and recognition on NPR’s Book Concierge Guide to 2017’s Great Reads.

Akbar is also the author of a chapbook, “Portrait of the Alcoholic,” published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2017.

He is the recipient of a 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, and the 2016 Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Born in Tehran, Iran, Akbar is a visiting assistant professor at Purdue University and teaches at Randolph College in Lynchburg and Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. He is the founding editor of “Divedapper,” an online collection of interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry.

“Calling a Wolf a Wolf” has garnered critical acclaim for poems illuminating Akbar’s intensive engagements with language, alcoholism, faith and the search for self. Benjamin Voigt in Kenyon Review wrote that Akbar is a “sumptuous, remarkably painterly poet.” And in The Yale Review, Stephen Burt writes: “Akbar has what every poet needs: the power to make, from emotions that others have felt, memorable language that nobody has assembled before.”

As the winner of the Levis Reading Prize, Akbar joins a list of celebrated past recipients, including Solmaz Sharif for “Look” (Graywolf Press), Rickey Laurentiis for “Boy with Thorn” (University of Pittsburgh Press), Sandra Lim for “The Wilderness” (W.W. Norton & Co.), Roger Reeves for “King Me” (Copper Canyon Press), and more.

Sponsors for the Levis Reading Prize include VCU Libraries, the Department of English, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, and the College of Humanities and Sciences, with additional funding provided by the family of Larry Levis. In connection with Akbar's visit, VCU Libraries will launch an online exhibit exploring Levis’ creative process.

Find further information about the Levis Reading Prize online or email Gregory Donovan, director of the Levis Reading Prize, at

A version of this article by Brian McNeill of University Public Affairs was published by VCU News. 

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