Meet Ashleigh Young, the Writer Whose Debut Essay Collection Won Her $165,000 and Goodreads Popularity

The New Zealand author received the acclaimed Windham-Campell award for her first book in 2016.

Can You Tolerate This? Ashleigh Young EssaysImage Courtesy of Giramondo Publishing

It was 2016. Wellington writer Ashleigh Young was arriving at work when she got the e-mail from Yale University informing her she’d just won the Windham-Campell prize, an award worth $165,000 (NZ$230,000). Young guessed at first the suspicious e-mail was spam — yet, in fact, it wasn’t.

“I’m still completely reeling. It came completely out of the blue,” Young said of the news during her appearance on Radio New Zealand last March.

Unbeknownst to the young writer, the essays of her anticipated collection Can You Tolerate This? (Victoria University Press, 2016) would merit the budding essayist and poet a massive sum and attention as one of eight writers — and the first New Zealander — to receive the prestigious literary prize.

Can You Tolerate This? Ashleigh Young
Victory University Press

The Windham-Campell prize honors categories like poetry, fiction, drama, and nonfiction yearly and confidentially, meaning nominations are never disclosed. This process fosters an atmosphere of openness and reduces outside influences during the selection and judging process.

Can You Tolerate This? — which concentrates on the author’s transformation, anxiety, coming of age while existing in the heart of an insular community — has been acquired for reprint with Riverhead Books, slated for summer release, July 3.

“Do believe the hype! Blimmin genius. Beautiful, thought-provoking and clever. Highly recommended,” describes one Goodreads user called Helen in her five-star review of Young’s book. “Beautifully funny – intimate stories of family and self. Really great writing. Funny, journalistic, poetic…all the styles and skills on display,” rates another.

As someone constantly on the hunt for short stories to read, I’ll certainly be grabbing an edition of Young’s anticipated collection this summer.

Read a full synopsis of Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This? courtesy of Goodreads, below.

A dazzling – and already prizewinning – collection of essays on youth and aging, ambition and disappointment, Katherine Mansfield tourism and New Zealand punk rock, and the limitations of the body. 

Youth and frailty, ambition and anxiety, the limitations of the body and the challenges of personal transformation: these are the undercurrents that animate acclaimed poet Ashleigh Young’s first collection of essays. In Can You Tolerate This?–the title comes from the question chiropractors ask to test a patient’s pain threshold–Young ushers us into her early years in the faraway yet familiar landscape of New Zealand: fantasizing about Paul McCartney, cheering on her older brother’s fledging music career, and yearning for a larger and more creative life. As Young’s perspective expands, a series of historical portraits–a boy who grew new bone wherever he was injured, an early French postman who built a stone fortress by hand, a generation of Japanese shut-ins–strike unexpected personal harmonies, as an unselfconscious childhood gives way to painful shyness in adolescence. As we watch Young fall in and out of love, undertake an intense yoga practice that masks an eating disorder, and gradually find herself through her writing, a highly particular psyche comes into view: curious, tender, and exacting in her observations of herself and the world around her.

Can You Tolerate This? presents a vivid self-portrait of an introspective yet widely curious young woman, the colorful, isolated community in which she comes of age, and the uneasy tensions–between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation–that define our lives.

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