Dr Grace Yee awarded 2020 Peter Steele Poetry Award

Writer, researcher and university teacher Dr Grace Yee is the 2020 recipient of the Peter Steele Poetry Award.

The award honours Professor Peter Steele SJ AM, a loved and esteemed member of the University of Melbourne community, and a poet and teacher of literature whose work continues to inspire new generations of poets. A winner of the Christopher Brennan Award for lifetime achievement in poetry, he was also the scholar-in-residence at Newman College for over two decades until his death in 2012.

Having graduated in 2016 with a PhD in Arts (Creative Writing) from the University of Melbourne, recipient Dr Yee is currently a Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria working on a collection of poems inspired by the stories of early Chinese settlers to Melbourne and regional Victoria. Last year she was a recipient of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize. Her poems have most recently appeared in Overland, Cordite Poetry Review and Hainamana (Aotearoa New Zealand).

Judges Associate Professor Justin Clemens, Dr Eddie Paterson and Associate Professor Dan Woodman were impressed by Dr Yee’s work. In awarding the prize, they said:

“Bristling with incisive observations and laced with memorable turns of phrase, Grace Yee’s astonishing long poem Beneath the Long White Cloud traces the vicissitudes of Chinese families in Aotearoa New Zealand. Drawing on a range of sources, from personal experience through interviews to newspaper articles and other published writings, Yee builds up through intense fragments a grand mosaic of collective experience. Childhood memories jostle with adolescent mishaps and sharp domestic disagreements, a mother’s feet are tucked up sideways on a second-hand sofa ‘like a mermaid’ and underarms sweat into a synthetic silk cheongsam. Subtle, committed, elegant, Yee’s work is simultaneously a contribution to contemporary poetry and to our understanding of contemporary social life in settler societies.”

Dr Yee will be using this award to finish a project she began working on during her PhD – a collection of poems that is very close to her heart.

“[The project] is based loosely on my family and community so it’s really going to be amazing to see that finished,” she says.

Supporters of the Peter Steele Poetry Award are warm in their congratulations.

“Peter Steele graced both Newman College and the University of Melbourne with his wit, intellect and imagination,” says Sean Burke, Provost at Newman College. “Peter would be particularly delighted that the award this year went to Dr Grace Yee. His poetry, too, was grounded in family and community. Many, many congratulations Grace.”

The Hon Susan Crennan AC QC adds, “Peter once said : ‘good poetry braves the elements at once of life and art’. The award harnesses Peter's unique energy and reputation, which hopefully fills Grace with confidence as she follows him and ‘braves the elements at once of life and art’.

Congratulations Dr Yee on this well-deserved recognition.

If you would like to support a new generation of literary graduates and contribute to a bright future for poetry, donate to the Peter Steele Poetry Trust Fund.