Poet Tyree Daye was driving between his jobs at Louisburg College and UNC-Chapel Hill when he received the call: He’d been awarded the prestigious, $50,000 Whiting Award.

Since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has awarded the annual grant to ten emerging writers of poetry, fiction, drama, and nonfiction, based on criteria of “early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come.” Past recipients form a catalog of literary greats: Tony Kushner, Terrance Hayes, Yiyun Lee, and Tracy K. Smith.

Daye, born in Louisburg, is a graduate of N.C. State’s Creative Writing Program. Currently based in Raleigh, he is an adjunct instructor of English composition at Louisburg College and a lecturer in poetry at UNC. His first collection, River Hymns, received the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize.

The Whiting selection committee describes Daye’s poems as “haunted and haunting; they make new a familiar human loss and longing. Daye’s pictures of a river life are strung together in language that is clear, lucid, unexpected, and often unforgettable.” His second collection, Cardinal, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2020.

“I am just excited to join this stellar list of artists,” says Daye, who admits the news hasn’t quite sunk in yet. “I wonder, will it ever?”

This year’s winners also include the fiction writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Hernan Diaz, the playwright Lauren Yee, and the novelist Merritt Tierce. The full list can be found here.