Vahni Capildeo

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Surya Vahni Priya Capildeo (born 1973) is a Trinidadian writer, and a member of the extended Capildeo family that has produced notable Trinidadian politicians and writers (including V. S. Naipaul, a cousin of Capildeo's).[1]


Born in 1973 in Port of Spain, Vahni Capildeo has lived in the United Kingdom since 1991.

She read English at Christ Church, Oxford, and was subsequently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship[2] to pursue graduate work in Old Norse and translation theory, also at Christ Church/the Faculty of English Language and Literature. This led to her PhD thesis, 'Reading Egils saga Skallagrímssonar: saga, paratext, translations', completed in 2001.[3] She intermitted from a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge in 2000-4 in order to spend time in Trinidad and Jamaica. This produced No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003),[4] a book-length poem sequence, and One Scattered Skeleton, a non-fiction book on the palimpsestic nature of place, memory, and language which takes its title from a poem by the Guyanese poet Martin Carter and moves between the U.K., the Caribbean, and Iceland. Extracts from One Scattered Skeleton have appeared in London: City of Disappearances (ed. Iain Sinclair), Stand Magazine, The Arts Journal (Guyana) and The Caribbean Review of Books.

Person Animal Figure, a set of 45 dramatic monologues in 3 voices but possibly 1 character, was published by Jeremy Noel-Tod's Landfill Press in 2005 (

Undraining Sea (completed 2005), a third poetry collection, was published in 2009 from Nathan Hamilton's Norwich-based Eggbox Press. It is a three-section book that actively engages with William Carlos Williams's Paterson. This was followed in 2012 by Dark and Unaccustomed Words (completed 2008), which takes its title from George Puttenham's sixteenth-century Arte of Poesie. This was Puttenham's critical term for arcane or foreign imports into English. The collection was longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.[5] The poems in Capildeo's fourth book do not overtly theorize about poetry but rather seek to demonstrate, for example, the feeling and scope of certain parts of speech (prepositions, adjectives), forms, voices, or attitudes. A fifth book, Utter, was published be Peepal Tree Press in 2013.[6]

Capildeo has worked at Oxfam Head Office and for the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre as a volunteer and a volunteer trainer;[7] for the Oxford English Dictionary; and she has taught at the Universities of Leeds (2009), Greenwich (2009), Sheffield (2009–10), Kingston-upon-Thames (2010–11), and Glasgow (2012-13).[8] She is a Contributing Editor at the Caribbean Review of Books (edited by Nicholas Laughlin). She was part of the team of Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, in 2013-14.[9] She has been appointed to the 2014 Judith E. Wilson Visiting Fellowship in Poetry at the University of Cambridge.


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