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Northern Ireland poet Stephen Sexton, inspired by mother's death and Super Mario, wins award

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Recognition: Stephen Sexton

Recognition: Stephen Sexton

Recognition: Stephen Sexton

A Co Down poet has received a prestigious American award previously won by the great Seamus Heaney.

Stephen Sexton from Ballygowan also received $20,000 to travel and stay in the US as part the EM Forster Award, announced by the American Academy of Arts and Letters earlier this month.

His debut collection, If All the World and Love Were Young, published by Penguin Books, details how a video game helped him come to terms with grief.

The collection, which references Super Mario World, his favourite childhood game, is a tribute to his mother Elizabeth, who died from cancer in 2012.

The judging panel consisted of poets Colum McCann, Jhumpa Lahiri and Co Armagh's Paul Muldoon.

The late Seamus Heaney was also handed the EM Forster Award in 1975.

Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) was an English novelist who wrote hugely important titles such as A Room With A View, Howards End and A Passage To India.

Congratulating Mr Sexton for his achievement, Damian Smyth, head of literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: "As its name suggests, the EM Forster Award is hugely prestigious.

"With his success in this prize in the US, winning the UK National Poetry Competition Prize in 2016, an Eric Gregory Award in 2018 and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2019, the sense is quickly growing on both sides of the Atlantic that Stephen Sexton is already one of those rare poets whose obvious and prodigious lyric gifts are matched both by accessibility and universality."

Belfast Telegraph