Winner 2017 Romeo Oriogun

Romeo Oriogun from Nigeria is the winner of the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize for his “beautiful and deeply passionate” writing on masculinity and desire.

Now in its fifth year, the £3,000 major poetry prize, sponsored by Brunel University London and Commonwealth Writers, is aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa. It is open to African poets worldwide who have not yet published a full poetry collection.

The judges were unanimous this year in their decision that among a shortlist of ten stunning new poets selected from nearly 1,200 entries, Oriogun – who only began writing three years ago – should receive the prize for his outstanding poetry.

The judges said: “Romeo Oriogun is a hugely talented and urgent new voice in African poetry. His poems are deeply passionate, shocking, imaginative, complex and ultimately beautiful explorations of masculinity, sexuality and desire in a country that does not recognise LGBT rights. We wish him all the best for the future.”

Oriogun lives and writes in Nigeria. His poems have been featured in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Expound, Praxis, and others. He is the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis Magazine Online. He is available for interview and can be contacted via Bernardine.Evaristo@brunel.ac.uk.

In a recent interview, Oriogun explained that he entered the Brunel International African Poetry Prize because “in Africa there are very few spaces for queer writing, I thought it was a means of sharing my poems” and described reaching the shortlist as “a blessing and a surprise.” He has also cited the Prize’s first winner as a major literary influence.

In discussing hardships and threats in Nigeria he said: “Sometimes this is the price I pay for writing but it is better than keeping quiet. I know queer people may not be free to love openly in my lifetime but it is a journey and we are laying the stones for the future.

“Each poem I write is a door into another, I don’t dwell much on my writing but I’m moved when someone says because of my poems he knows he’s not alone and his feelings are valid. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is living a life of its own and it’s traveling with light into dark places.”

You can read Romeo’s poems here.

Oriogun was one of four Nigerian poets to reach this year’s shortlist, which included Sahro Ali (Somalia); Leila Chatti (Tunisia); Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia); Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigeria); Yalie Kamara (Sierra Leone); Kechi Nomu (Nigeria); Richard Oduor Oduku (Kenya); Rasaq Malik (Nigeria); and Nick Makoha (Uganda).

The judges this year were the poets and academics: Chris Abani (Northwestern University); Kwame Dawes (University of Nebraska); Safia Elhillo (winner of the 2015 Prize); Patricia Jabbeh Welsley (Penn State University); John Keene (Rutgers University) and chair and founder, Bernardine Evaristo (Brunel University London).

The Prize is a partnership between Brunel and Commonwealth Writers, and works closely with Kwame Dawes and the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) at the University of Nebraska.

All the winners and most of the shortlisted poets of the past four years have had poetry pamphlets published with APBF in their New Generation African Poets series of box sets, in partnership with US publishers Slappering Hol Press and Akashic Books. Some of these poets have also published, or are about to publish, their first full length collections.

Bernardine Evaristo states. Since the Prize began and the APBF started publishing its box sets, African poetry is now undergoing a major revolution with the publication of many brilliantly unique poets who are changing the literary landscape of the continent.’

Previous winners
2013   Warsan Shire (Somalia)
2014   Liyou Libsekal (Ethiopia)
2015   Safia Elhillo (Sudan) & Nick Makoha (Uganda)
2016   Gbenga Adesina (Nigeria) & Chekwube O. Danladi (Nigeria)

Brunel University London: Brunel University London is a public research university located in London. English and Creative Writing at Brunel is ranked in the UK top 20 in the Guardian University League Table 2017 and the Complete University Guide 2018:  www.brunel.ac.uk

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Commonwealth Writers: Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, develops and connects writers across the world. It believes that well-told stories can help people make sense of events, engage with others, and take action to bring about change. Responsive and proactive, it is committed to tackling the challenges faced by writers in different regions and working with local and international partners to identify and deliver projects. Its activities take place in Commonwealth countries, but its community is global:
www.commonwealthwriters.org