Winner 2021

We are pleased to announce that Othuke Umukoro (Nigeria) is the winner of the 3k Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2021, a major prize aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa. The Prize is sponsored by Brunel University London and is open to African poets worldwide who have not yet published a full poetry collection.

The judges this year were poets: Karen McCarthy Woolf (Chair), Rustum Kozain (South Africa) and Makhosazana Xaba (South Africa). They were unanimous in their decision and have this to say about the winning poems: ‘The language is lush, mesmeric at times and the balance between lyric and narrative deftly handled. There is a technical competence too. These are unafraid, thoughtful pieces — playful, yet serious, making us look at love, life, mortality afresh. The elegiac A Mountain Cracks Before Translation — mourning the suicide of a brother found hanging — heartbreaking, but never gratuitous in its detail. A complex poet, with the formal skills to match the weight of the subjects he takes on, whether it’s sexuality and the family dynamic, HIV, or nature, ecology and politics.’

Many of these poets are young, in their 20s, and their voices are fresh, articulate, compelling –– they speak to us, in lucid and evocative terms of tangible lived experience, whether they are writing of relationships with parents, lovers, society or friends. Demonstrating a capacity for experimentation, formal dexterity and a willingness to take a risk, these shortlisted poets write in a range of styles from narrative to lyric.We find them now, on the brink of what promises to be notable and enduring literary careers.  

The shortlisted poets were Kweku Abimbola (Gambia), Arao Ameny (Uganda), Isabelle Baafi (South Africa), Asmaa Jama (Somalia), Tumello Motabola (Lesotho), Oluwadare Popoola (Nigeria), Yomi Sode (Nigeria).

Past winners: Warsan Shire (2013); Liyou Libsekal (2014); Safia Elhillo & Nick Makoha (2015); Gbenga Adesina & Chekwube O. Danladi (2016); Romeo Oriogun (2017); Hiwot Adilow, Theresa Lola & Momtaza Mehri (2018); Nadra Mabrouk & Jamila Osman (2019); Rabha Ashry (2020).

Now in it’s eighth year of submissions, this is the largest cash prize for African poetry in the world. It is is aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa. The Prize is sponsored by Brunel University London and is open to African poets worldwide.

Bernardine Evaristo founded the Prize in 2012 at a time when African poetry was almost invisible on the international literary landscape. Today, there are legions of African poets successfully building careers and being heard. This quiet revolution demonstrates the power of initiatives such as the Brunel prize and the African Poetry Book Fund to revolutionise the literature of an entire continent. The future looks very bright and African poetry is staking its claim as a major force in world literature.

Othuke is available for interview and can be contacted via Bernardine.Evaristo@brunel.ac.uk.