Profile of the 2019 Levis Reading Prize Coordinator, AJ White

September 18, 2019

AJ White is the 2019 Levis Reading Prize coordinator and in his third year in the M.F.A. program for poetry.

AJ White standing outsideAJ White is from a small quiet town in the foothills of north Georgia. “I definitely consider myself a southerner and a southern writer, titles that carry all kinds of associations and connotations that I try to address and work through in my poems,” AJ confides. In his undergraduate program in North Carolina, AJ was an English major focused on creative writing and classics. “In undergrad, I was a fiction writer but took a poetry course in my final semester with Gabrielle Calvocoressi, who was instrumental in getting me excited about poetry and thinking more about verse and poetic language.”

Now in his third year in the VCU M.F.A. program, AJ is working as the 2019 Levis Reading Prize coordinator. The nationally prominent Levis Reading Prize, named for the late poet and VCU faculty member, Larry Levis, is awarded yearly to an outstanding first or second collection of poetry. Each year, the award receives nearly two hundred submissions which are organized by the Levis Reading Prize coordinator and read and evaluated by the students in the M.F.A. program. AJ states, “it’s a fairly rigorous and involved selection process (and a very cool opportunity) for the graduate poetry students here at VCU.” As the Levis Reading Prize coordinator, AJ will assign each submitted collection to at least two M.F.A. students early in the new year. Each student involved ends up reading between twenty and thirty poetry collections, giving each collection a numeric evaluation with some additional qualitative feedback. The coordinator then collects the students’ reviews and compiles a list of about ten collections that have been highly reviewed to pass to the VCU poetry faculty who choose a winning collection from the finalists.

Cover of Eye Level by Jenny XieAs a reader last year, AJ was one of the M.F.A. students who evaluated and selected this year's recipient of the Levis Reading Prize, Eye Level by Jenny Xie. AJ said that among the “many memorable and impressive collections” he read, Eye Level stood out immediately. He describes the collection as “Zen-like and the poems as koan-like,” and adds, “[i]n a timeline where we’re really intensely questioning notions of truth—especially absolute truth—the clarity, acuity, and sense of wisdom inherent in Xie’s poems are startling, as is their speaker’s simultaneous confidence and hesitance to interrogate life’s all-too-common obstacles.”

Jenny Xie will come to VCU for the 2019 Levis Reading Prize Night on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. Xie will give a free, public reading and question-and-answer session at the James Branch Cabell Library, followed by a reception in her honor. 


Sponsors of the Levis Reading Prize include VCU Libraries, VCU Department of English, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, with additional funding provided by the family of Larry Levis.