The 2018 Neustadt Prize judges have been announced, and among them, in a very happy coincidence, are the 2014 and 2015 winners of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets: Ladan Osman and Mahtem Shifferaw. They join seven other jurors: Alisa Ganieva, Adnan Mahmutović, Dipika Mukherjee, Achy Obejas, Sasha Pimentel, Zia Haider Rahman, and Major Jackson.
Referred to as the “American Nobel Prize in Literature,” the biennial $50,000 Neustadt International Prize for Literature is awarded for an author’s body of work and sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and its publication, World Literature Today. Thirty of its winners, nominees or judges have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.
The Somali-American poet Ladan Osman’s work centers on her Somali and Muslim heritage. She was awarded the 2014 Sillerman First Book Prize for her collection, The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony, which was subsequently published by the University of Nebraska Press in conjunction with Amalion Press.
A holder of an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, the Ethiopian poet and visual artist Mahtem Shiferraw received the 2015 Sillerman First Book Prize for her collection, Fuchsia, which was published by the University of Nebraska Press. Her poetry chapbook, Behind Walls & Glass, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in The 2River View, Cactus Heart Press, Blood Lotus Literary Journal, Luna Luna Magazine, Mandala Literary Journal, Blackberry: A Magazine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Bitter Oleander Press, and Callaloo.
It is hard not to dwell on the significance of two winners of an African poetry prize for first books judging a prize as high-profile as the Neustadt Prize so soon. It is a powerful statement on the renaissance brought about by the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) which administers the Sillerman Prize. The APBF also administers the Brunel International Prize for African Poetry—which was founded by Bernadine Evaristo—and the Glenna Luschei Prize, in addition to publishing the annual New-Generation African Poets chapbook box set.
Congratulations to Ladan and Mahtem!
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