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Canadian actress and poet Nehassaiu deGannes celebrates success in Montreal International Poetry Prize Competition

09 Oct 2020

Award-winning Canadian actress and poet Nehassaiu deGannes is celebrating a return to her writing roots with the recent selection of her poem, To Find, To Be as a shortlisted finalist for the prestigious Montreal International Poetry Prize Competition.

deGannes’ poem was shortlisted for the honour along with approximately fifty other works, selected from nearly 5000 entries submitted from across the globe.

And while the eventual winner of the competition -announced on September 21- was Victoria Korth’s Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center, deGannes is excited about what the honour means for her writing career and for the launch of her forthcoming full-length book of poetry Music for Exile, which will be published by Tupelo Press in February of 2021.

“To have been shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize was a huge honour,” she says, “And the timing of it has been so fortuitous, coming now, just a few months before my first book-length collection of poems Music for Exile is released next year. I’ve spent a great deal of time in recent years working as an actor, but what many people who may know me primarily through the world of theatre may not know is that I started out as a writer. My love for and interest in acting emanated from that.”

Born in Trinidad and Tobago into a family with roots in Grenada, Guyana, St Vincent and Dominica, deGannes was raised primarily in Canada from age three. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from McGill University and went on to pursue her MA in African American Studies at Temple as well as an MFA in Literary Arts at Brown.

Her career trajectory would change dramatically when, while at Brown, she found herself consistently pursued by several of her MFA colleagues in the playwright’s program to act in their productions. This lead to performances on Brown’s main stage, a newly discovered passion for acting and eventual enrollment in Trinity Rep’s Conservatory Graduate Acting Program where she trained for three years.

Since then, deGannes has performed Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally at some of the most prestigious theatres in the Americas, in the works of   many of literature’s most esteemed playwrights. Select credits include Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival of Canada,  Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel at Shakespeare and Company, Danai Gurira’s  The Convert at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.,  Sarah Burgess’ Kings at Studio Theatre of DC and Aleshea Harris’ Obie Award-winning  Is God Is Off-Broadway at Soho Rep, to name but a few.

She recently made her feature film debut in the indie police drama Equal Standard, opposite Ice T, Tobias Truvillion and Robert Clohessy.

Throughout her many stage successes however, deGannes never stopped writing.

She won the Philbrook Poetry Prize for her chapbook Perscussion, Salt and Honey and was awarded the Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Award for Undressing The River.

Other published poems include Fingol: A Caribbean Libretto and Vortex (Callaloo Journal), Still Life- Tabula Rasa with Ginger Lilies (Cave Canem Anthology X11), When Last–– (The Caribbean Writer) and  Black Madonna Greets A Sunrise (American Poetry Review).

Now, armed with the prestige of her latest success with the shortlisting of To Find, To Be for The Montreal International Poetry Prize, her eyes are squarely on the release of Music for Exile.

She describes her collection as “Vividly of the moment, while layered with the swirling weight of history. Music for Exile centers the perspective of a Caribbean immigrant girl growing into womanhood as she confronts all species of violence (intimate and epic,) demands the journey be worthy, and sings into being a radical sense of belonging.”

She admits that “This moment is sweet and a long time coming. I've been acting pretty much full time for the last decade, but the opportunity to publish the full collection is finally here. Thanks to Tupelo, a press I have long admired, for giving Music for Exile a home. It's sobering, how the early poems still resonate sharply today.  My poems confronting the policing of Black bodies or unpacking intimate violence speak directly to present urgencies.  So many of us are voicing a long-overdue right to feel that we fully belong, that we can truly call this place home. That desire, that long-buried ache, lies at the heart of my work. Personally and collectively, we are exposing the wound. I am excited to have Music for Exile contribute to this larger transformation, this reckoning, this healing!” 

For further information on Music for Exile go to:

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