Nigeria’s Romeo Oriogun has been awarded, in what was a unanimous decision, the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, for his “beautiful and passionate writing on masculinity and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution.” And here is part of our excitement: we have published six of Romeo’s poems—the most recent being last week, just after an interview with him to mark his shortlisting—and so his win is a validation of our work in creating a platform for new voices; but more importantly, Romeo is the second consecutive Brittle Paper-published poet to go on to win the Brunel Prize, after Gbenga Adesina in 2016—Gbenga who has go on to be published in The New York Times Magazine.

Founded in 2013 by the renowned award-winning writer and critic, Bernadine Evaristo, the £3,000 Brunel International Poetry Prize which is “aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa” and “open to African poets worldwide who have not yet published a full poetry collection” is the biggest on the continent. It is a partnership between Brunel and Commonwealth Writers, and works closely with the generous Kwame Dawes and the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) at the University of Nebraska.

The 2017 ten-writer shortlist had been chosen from almost 1,200 entries: Sahro Ali (Somalia), Leila Chatti (Tunisia), Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia), Yalie Kamara (Sierra Leone), Kechi Nomu (Nigeria), Richard Oduor Oduku (Kenya), Rasaq Malik (Nigeria), Nick Makoha (Uganda), Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigeria) who has also been published by us and whose shortlisting we marked with an interview, and Romeo Oriogun himself. Commenting on their choice of him, the judges said:

“Romeo Oriogun is a hugely talented, outstanding, and urgent new voice in African poetry. His poetry is wide ranging but at its heart 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.”

“African poetry is now undergoing a revolution with the publication of many brilliantly unique poets who are changing the literary landscape of the continent.”

The four judges were: PEN Open Book Award, Hemmingway Foundation/PEN Award and Hurston-Wright Legacy Award winner Chris Abani (Northwestern University) who is Nigerian; Barnes & Noble Award and Emmy Award-winning professor Kwame Dawes (University of Nebraska) who is Ghanaian; 2015 Brunel Prize winner Safia Elhillo who is Sudanese; poet and creative writing professor Patricia Jabbeh Welsley (Penn State University) who is Liberian; and Bernardine Evaristo (Brunel University London) who is Nigerian-British.

In an email to Brittle Paper, Sarah Cox, the Brunel Prize’s Senior Media Relations Officer, stated:

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.

The inaugural Brunel International Poetry Prize was awarded to Somalia’s Warsan Shire in 2013. She was followed by Ethiopia’s Liyou Libsekal in 2014, Sudan’s Safia Elhillo and Uganda’s Nick Makoha in 2015, and Nigeria’s Gbenga Adesina and Chekwube O. Danladi in 2016.

Congratulations to Romeo Oriogun. We are fiercely proud of him. And as part of our celebration of his feat, we will, in coming weeks, highlight different sides of his artistry.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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