One of the breakout poetry books of 2020, Victoria Chang’s OBIT (Copper Canyon) received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, PEN Voelcker Award, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize, as well as long listed for a National Book Award. OBIT was also named a TIME Magazine, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Boston Globe Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Notable Book.
Why has this book touched such a chord? Written “an inch from sorrow,” as Michael Silverblatt of public radio’s Bookworm describes it, OBIT uses the column shape of the newspaper obituary to contain meditations—surprising, surreal, vividly compressed—on the losses surrounding the illness and death of her mother and the encroaching dementia of her father. Poems are framed as obituaries for the objects and ideas that have been transformed by the speaker’s grief—a blue dress, a frontal lobe, music, teeth. Published in a year of universal losses, OBIT offers a reflection on how grief changes the world.
Victoria has written or edited eight books, including two for young readers, and actively reviews, edits and teaches. Her next book, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief is forthcoming in October. She is returning to the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference twenty years after she first attended as a participant in 2001, working with Heather McHugh. In an interview with Peter Mishler, she describes writing as “a process of discovery”: “The whole process is very magical and it’s so addictive that I find myself seeking that surprise like a kind of drug every time I sit down to write.”