Anuradha Bhowmik of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the 2021 winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for her collection Brown Girl Chromatography, selected by new Starrett Poetry Prize judge and award-winning poet Aaron Smith. Bhowmik, a Bangladeshi-American poet and writer from South Jersey, will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in the Pitt Poetry Series this fall, on sale September 2022.
“Brown Girl Chromatography is pure fire, a slow burn to the center of desire,” said Smith. “This is a book of longing, of brokenness, of makeup (‘my second art, the perfect counterpart to my alter ego’), of wanting what you’re not supposed to want and then constructing a world from it: ‘this is my kingdom. / this is something I can control.’ This is the most inventive book I’ve read in ages.”
Brown Girl Chromatography is shaped by Bhowmik’s life as a Bangladeshi-born American girl and woman growing up as a first-generation immigrant in the United States. The collection interrogates issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality in post-9/11 America while navigating Bhowmik’s millennial childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
“I hoped that writing these poems could serve as a type of exposure therapy,” shared Bhowmik. “Although these memories occupy much space in my brain, I believed that writing and reliving each of them would help me construct a blueprint that my younger selves needed but never had.”
Free association connects the poems to one another as language and memory intersect, and Bhowmik often draws from pop culture to share where her memory has been. Throughout this collection, Bhowmik learns about the cruelties that exist in both American and Bangladeshi worlds without any prior guidance or instruction on how to survive them.
On winning the Starrett Poetry Prize, Bhowmik said she is “[reminded] that my younger selves were worthy of existing and having their stories told when I often questioned whether my experiences mattered—I was just a brown girl trying to stay alive. I hope that readers who feel similarly also remember that their stories and their presence are valuable.”
Bhowmik is a 2022 Kundiman Fellow and a 2018 AWP Intro Journals Project Winner in Poetry, and she earned her MFA from Virginia Tech. She has received awards from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, the Community of Writers, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Frost Place, the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, among others. Her poetry and prose have appeared in POETRY, Hayden’s Ferry Review, diode poetry journal, The Sun, DIAGRAM, Indiana Review, New South, Quarterly West, Salt Hill, Nashville Review, Crab Orchard Review, Slice Magazine, Zone 3, The Normal School, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere.