Late last year, we brought news of the remarkable acclaim garnered by Zambian-British poet Kayo Chingonyi’s poetry collection Kumukanda, which explores black masculinity as well as references pop culture, and further covered the dance video created by the poems. Now the collection has been awarded the 2018 Dylan Thomas Prize. Chingonyi, reports The Guardian, is the first British poet to win the prize. He emerged from a shortlist that included Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling, Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body & Other Parties, Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho, and Gwendoline Riley’s First Love.
The £30,000 Dylan Thomas Prize is awarded annually to the best literary work, irrespective of genre, by an author aged 39 or under. Chingonyi is 31.
The word “Kumukanda” is used by the Luvale people of Zambia and Angola to connote initiation, and Chingonyi uses it to reference both the rites of passage which Lovale boys undergo to become a man as well as coming of age in London.
Dai Smith, who chaired of judges, hailed Kumukanda as “mature and moving,” praising Chingonyi’s “original and distinctive voice.” The Guardian quotes another of the judges, Kurt Heinzelman, as saying:
“Unlike many other books by immigrant writers discussing memories of the homeland and the sensations of a new country, Kayo’s volume is not a lamentation for what he imagines has been lost, but it’s a new kind of celebration, albeit a vexed one, of the joys of living in a new country. For me, the particular pleasure of this volume is that the particulars of his experience are so emotionally various and culturally diverse, and that the whole collection is even more beautiful than the sum of its parts.”
The Prize was presented to Chingonyi at Swansea University by the actor Michael Sheen, who praised Kumukanda as “a stunning and hugely culturally relevant collection of poems that keenly explore black culture, masculinity and identity in Britain today.”
Kayo Chingonyi’s poem, “The Colour of James Brown’s Scream” was shortlisted for the inaugural Brittle Paper Award for Poetry. He was twice shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, in 2013 and 2017. A fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry, he is the author of two pamphlets, Some Bright Elegance (Salt, 2012) and The Colour of James Brown’s Scream (Akashic, 2016). In 2012 he represented Zambia at Poetry Parnassus, a festival of world poets staged by The Southbank Centre as part of the London 2012 Festival. He was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and has completed residencies with Kingston University, Cove Park, First Story, The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and Royal Holloway University of London in partnership with Counterpoints Arts. He was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from Autumn 2015 to Spring 2016. He co-edited issue 62 of Magma Poetry and the Autumn 2016 edition of The Poetry Review. He is also a musician.
Congratulations to Kayo Chingonyi.