The 2018 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets has been awarded to Botswana’s Tjawangwa (TJ) Dema, for her collection, The Careless Seamstress. In addition to receiving the $1000 prize money, Dema’s manuscript will be published in the spring of 2019 as part of the African Poetry Book Series by the University of Nebraska Press. The finalists are: Nawal Nader-French (Ghana/US), for A Hemmed Remnant; Logan February (Nigeria), for Mannequin in the Nude; Thabile (Ashley) Makue (South Africa), for ‘mamaseko; Rasaq Malik Gbolahan (Nigeria), for Do Not Bury Me in this Land; and Brunel Prize 2017 winner Romeo Oriogun (Nigeria), for My Body Is No Miracle.
Backed by the philanthropists Laura and Robert FX Sillerman—as part of their overall funding of the African Poetry Book Fund—the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets honours the finest first full-length poetry manuscript by an African. The prize is judged by the editorial board of the African Poetry Book Fund: Chris Abani, Gabeba Baderoon, Bernardine Evaristo, Aracelis Girmay, John Keene, Matthew Shenoda, and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, with the Fund’s Director Kwame Dawes, editor-in-chief of Prairie Schooner.
Also an arts administrator and teaching artist, TJ Dema has an MA in creative writing from Lancaster University. Her chapbook, Mandible, was published as part of Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in the Cordite Poetry Review, Elsewhere Lit, the New Orleans Review, and the anthology Read Women. A recipient of fellowships from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Danish Arts Council/Foundation, she was a 2016 Artist-in-Residence in the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities at Northwestern University.
The Sillerman First Book Prize has previously been awarded to: Kenya’s Clifton Gachagua in 2013, for Madman at Kilifi; Somalia’s Ladan Osman in 2014, for The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony; Ethiopian-Eritrean Mahtem Shiferraw in 2015, for Fuchsia; Sudan’s Safia Elhillo in 2016, for The January Children; and Zimbabwe’s Bernard Matambo in 2017, for Stray.
Congratulations to TJ Dema. Congratulations, also, to the finalists: Nawal Nader-French, Thabile (Ashley) Makue, Rasaq Malik Gbolahan, and particularly Romeo Oriogun and Logan February, both of whom we have published.