Judges 2017

Chair and Founder: Bernardine Evaristo

British-Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo is the award-winning author of seven books of fiction and verse fiction including Mr LovermanLaraThe Emperor’s Babe and Blonde Roots. She is a literary critic and an editor of anthologies and special magazine issues such as guest-editing Poetry Review in its centenary year. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London. She has judged and chaired many leading literary awards and in 2012 was Chair of both the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and The Caine Prize for African Fiction. 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 a Fellow of the English Association in 2017. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009. www.bevaristo.com

As a long time advocate for writers 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 Black and Asian poets in British poetry presses and to develop them to publication, with Spread the Word, London’s premier writer development agency, which she co-founded in 1995. Most 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 first BIAPP winner, Warsan Shire, collaborated with Beyonce on her latest album, Lemonade (2016), which features many of Warsan’s poems. In the 1980s she co-counded Britain’s first black women’s theatre company, Theatre of Black Women.

Chris Abani


Chris Abani is an acclaimed novelist and poet. His most recent books are The Secret History of Las Vegas, The Face: A Memoir and Sanctificum. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award, An Edgar Prize, A Ford USA Artists Fellowship, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, a Prince Claus Award, the Hurston Wright Legacy Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among many honours. Born in Nigeria, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Board of Trustees Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago. http://www.chrisabani.com

Kwame Dawes
Ghanaian-Jamaican writer Kwame Dawes is the award-winning author of twenty-one books of poetry and numerous books of fiction, non-fiction, criticism and drama. 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 Evaristo on judging of each other’s prizes and locating the brightest new voices in African poetry. http://africanpoetrybf.unl.edu/

Safia Elhillo


Safia Elhillo’s first full-length collection, The January Children, is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press in 2017. Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, and a Cave Canem fellow, she received a BA from New York University and an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. In addition to appearing in several journals and anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, her work has been translated into Arabic and Greek. For more information visit:

Patricia Jabbeh Welsley
10858624_10207606229502619_2392773465008627422_n_pePatricia Jabbeh Wesley is a Liberian civil war survivor who immigrated to the United States with her family in 1991 during the fourteen year Liberian civil war. She is the author of five books of poetry, When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, The River is Rising, Becoming Ebony, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, and one children’s book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea. Her poem, “One Day: Love Song for Divorced Women” was selected by US Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, as an American Life in Poetry June 13, 2011 featured poem. Patricia has won several awards and grants, including a 2016 WISE Women Award from Blair County, Pennsylvania, 2011 President Award from the Blair County NAACP, and a 2002 Crab Orchard Award for her second book of poems. Her individual poems and memoir articles have been widely anthologised in the US and around the world. She is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Penn State University’s Altoona campus.