HKU professor first Chinese to win prize in Italian poetry contest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am

A local university professor has become the first Chinese to grab a prize in an Italy-based international poetry competition endorsed by Unesco.

Agnes Lam Shun-ling, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Applied English Studies, won the Special Mention award in the 24th Nosside International Poetry Prize for her English poem entitled Vanilla in the Stars. She won a Euro500 (HK$5,400) cash prize and a plaque.

'I feel very thankful that I won this prize. [The organisers] told me I am the first Chinese to win a prize. I had not expected it at all. It still seems not real,' Professor Lam said.

Her winning poem explores the relations between life on Earth and cosmic dust.

Professor Lam said she had always been amazed by the starry sky since she lived in Stanley when she was small. And that is perhaps why her poem starts with 'When I was a child, I used to gaze at the stars above'.

The 54-year-old is no stranger in local poetry circles. She regularly contributes poems and articles to journals and has published two collections of poetry: Woman to Woman: and other poems in 1997 and Water Wood Pure Splendour in 2001.

She was also awarded the title Honorary Fellow in Writing by the University of Iowa for her participation in the International Writing Programme in Iowa last year. She is researching Asian poetry in English at present.

Professor Lam said it was the first time she had submitted an entry for the prize, which is open to all regardless of language, age, gender, or place of birth. It is also the only international poetry contest for unpublished, multilingual and multimedia works. 'The aim of the prize is to promote cultural diversity. It was a very interesting experience to participate in the award presentation activities with poets from other countries,' said Professor Lam, speaking of the award presentation held in late November in Italy.

Participants came from 40 countries and submitted poems in 29 languages for the 2008 competition.

Professor Lam, who was born in Hong Kong, left the city at the age of 19 to study in Singapore and later in the United States. After completing her doctoral degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1984, she returned to Singapore to teach at the National University.

She came back to Hong Kong to join the University of Hong Kong in 1990 and has been teaching there since then.

The Home Affairs Bureau yesterday congratulated Professor Lam on her achievement.