Judges 2016

Chair and Founder: Bernardine Evaristo

British-Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo is the award-winning author of seven books of fiction and verse fiction including LaraThe Emperor’s Babe and Blonde Roots. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, about a 74 year old Afro-Caribbean gay man living in London, was published by Penguin UK, August 2013 and Akashic Books, USA, 2014. All of her books explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, imagine, lived, travelled. She is an editor of anthologies and special magazine issues such as guest-editing Poetry Review in its centenary year, Britain’s leading poetry journal. She is also a literary critic for the national newspapers including the Guardian and Independent. She earned her doctorate from Goldsmiths, University of London and she is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London. She has judged many leading literary awards and in 2012 was Chair of both the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and The Caine Prize for African Fiction. In 2016 she is judging The Goldsmiths Prize and the 4th Estate/Harper Collins Diversity Fiction Prize, which aims to discover more novelists of colour, who are also underrepresented in British literature. She has won several literary awards and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006 and she was awarded an MBE in 2009. www.bevaristo.com

As an advocate for poets of colour, she initiated the Arts Council Free Verse report (2006) and The Complete Works (ongoing from 2008, led by Dr. Nathalie Teitler) mentoring scheme to address the (under 1%) representation of poets of colour in British poetry presses and to develop poets of colour to publication,  with Spread the Word, London’s premier writer development agency, which she co-founded in 1995. Many of the former mentees are publishing full-length poetry collections with leading poetry publishers and have won or been nominated for many awards, including winning the prestigious Forward Prize 2014 for best first collection (Mona Arshi) and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2015 (Sarah Howe). Former mentee and BUAPP winner, Warsan Shire, collaborated with Beyonce on her latest album, Lemonade (2016), which features many of Warsan’s poems.

Kwame Dawes

Ghanaian-Jamaican writer Kwame Dawes is an award-winning poet, novelist, playwright, anthologist, musician and critic and the author of over thirty-five books, including sixteen books of poetry, the most recent being, Wheels, (Peepal Tree Press 2011).  He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a faculty member of the Pacific MFA program in Oregon. His many awards include the Forward Prize, an Emmy for his reporting on HIV AIDS in Jamaica, the Barnes and Nobles Writers for Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is Associate Poetry Editor of Peepal Tree Press and co-founder and Program Director of Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica.  His collection Duppy Conqueror, New and Selected Poems was  published by Copper Canyon in 2013.  http://www.kwamedawes.com/ 

In 2012 Kwame founded the African Poetry Book Foundation which incorporates the new Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a host of other literary projects. Kwame works with Bernardine on judging of each other’s prizes and locating the brightest new voices in African poetry. http://africanpoetrybf.unl.edu/

Tsitsi Jaji

Tsitsi Jaji was raised in Harare before moving to the U.S. for university. She is the author of a chapbook, Carnaval,  in the collection Seven New Generation African Poets. Her full-length collection Beating the Graves was awarded an honorable mention in 2015 for the Ron Sillerman Prize and is forthcoming from APBF/UNL. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Jalada, Madison Review, Black Renaissance Noire, Bitter Oleander, Illuminations, ElevenEleven, Runes Review, Intensions, Poetry International’s Zimbabwe page, and the Center for Book Arts Broadside Poetry Series.

She is also an associate research professor at Duke University, and previously taught at University of Pennsylvania. Her scholarly book, Africa in Stereo: Music, Modernism and pan-African Solidarity (Oxford), was published in 2014. It traces the history of exchanges between African Americans and Ghanaians, Senegalese and South African artists through out the twentieth century. She teaches courses on African, African American and Caribbean literature, popular culture and film. Her courses often focus on the intersections of music and literature. She is at work on two new research projects. The first, Cassava Westerns, is a study of how global Black writers and artists reimagine the American frontier myth to serve new, local purposes. The second, Classic Black, is a study of poetry set to music.

John Keene 

John Keene is the author of the award-winning novel Annotations (New Directions); the art-poetry collection Seismosis (1913 Press) with artist Christopher Stackhouse; and the short fiction collection Counternarratives (New Directions), which has been named to “Best Fiction of 2015” lists by New York Magazine and Flavorwire, and selected as a “Top Read” by Library Journal, Time Out New York, and Washington City Paper. He has also published a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat Books / A Bolha Editora). His work has appeared in a wide array of periodicals and anthologies, and he has exhibited his artwork in Brooklyn and Berlin. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark, in the departments of English and African American and African Studies, which he chairs, and he is also is a core faculty member in the MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Helen Yitah

Helen Yitah is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English, University of Ghana. She is also founding Director of the University of Ghana-Carnegie Writing Centre, established through her initiative. She holds BA and MPhil degrees from the University of Ghana and a PhD. from the University of South Carolina, Columbia. She has taught various courses on literature and writing at both universities. A literary scholar and cultural critic, she has published on gender identity in literature, particularly oral and written African literature, American literature and children’s literature in Ghana; and women’s cultural production in colonial and contemporary Africa. Her current work includes two edited books, Philosophical Foundations of the Humanities through Postcolonial Perspectives (Brill/Rodopi, 2016) and After the Ceremonies, a collection of poems by Ama Ata Aidoo (African Poetry Book Fund). She has supported literary and cultural activity in various ways, including serving on judging panels for the Millennium Excellence Awards (literature category) and the “Love on the Road” short fiction contest; as facilitator for the African Poetry Library project; editor of the MBAASEM/Daily Graphic Writers Page; and presenter for “Read a Book a Week,” a book review program on Radio Universe, University of Ghana.