Rabha Ashry: Winner 2020

We are pleased to announce that Rabha Ashry is the winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2020.

Rabha Ashry is Egyptian, from Abu Dhabi, and based in Chicago. A New York University Abu Dhabi graduate, she recently completed an MFA in Writing at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. She writes about exile, the diaspora, and living between languages. Her work has been published in the Oyez reviewCollected 2018, Airport Road, Electra Street, and Strange Horizons.

The judges this year were poets and academics: Karen McCarthy Woolf (Chair), Kayo Chingonyi, Billy Kahora, Momtaza Mehri and Koleka Putuma. They praised Ashry’s poetry for reminding us of what can be at stake in a poem. Each twist of phrase and line is weighed carefully achieving a fruitful balance between harmony and dissonance, the mundane and the haunting, the ordinary and extraordinary. She deftly interweaves a range of powerful, and sometimes jarring, images. It feels as if the collection is performing a kind of undoing and unmasking. The poet’s voice subverts the safety of language and imagery, and has you feeling displaced and desperate to be belong – to root, in all the ways that are uncomfortable, challenging and necessary. Deceptively simple, these are poems which echo long after they finish on the page.

With over 1000 entries for the Prize, this year’s other shortlisted poets were: AKOSUA AFIRIYIE-HWEDIE (Zambia/Ghana/Botswana), INUA ELLAMS (Nigeria), AMANDA HOLIDAY (Sierra Leone), NOUR KAMEL (Egypt), SARADHA SOOBRAYEN (Mauritius).

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 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.

Now in it’s seventh 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 who have not yet published a full poetry collection. Each poet has to submit 10 poems in order to be eligible.

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