The South African Koleka Putuma has won the 2018/19 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, for her breakout book Collective Amnesia (uHlanga Press, 2017), chosen from a shortlist that included the Ugandan Nick Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press, 2017) and the Nigerian Dami Ajayi’s A Woman’s Body Is a Country (Ouida Books, 2017).
One of the two poetry prizes administered by the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF)—the other being the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets—the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry “annually awards $1,000 USD to a book of poetry by an African writer published in the previous year,” whether written in English or in translation. It is funded by the philanthropist and poet Glenna Luschei.
This year’s prize was judged by Bernardine Evaristo, founder of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize whose 2019 winners were announced just days ago. “Everything about this poetry debut feels fresh and timely,” Evaristo said. “Putuma, writing from a queer female perspective, has a liberated poetic voice that engages with politics, race, religion, relationships, sexuality, feminism and more. There is also risky formal innovation, emotional and intellectual complexity, biblical intertextuality and a stirring declamatory audibility.”
Evaristo praised Dami Ajayi’s A Woman’s Body Is a Country (reviewed here by IfeOluwa Nihinlola) as a book which “illuminates the slips between memory and desire, family, community, and place.” Ajayi, she writes, is “a dexterous and versatile poet who flexes his linguistic muscles with surprising revelations that offer new perspectives as he illuminates the slips between memory and desire, family, community, and place. . . He bravely exposes intimacies and his vulnerable self through poems that are honest and confessional.”
Evaristo hailed the “assured poetic voice that is epic, majestic, timeless” in Nick Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity. “Makoha crafts, contains, and intensifies this brutal, lawless, and shocking history into the most finely chiseled poems that stand alone in their graphic brilliance and gain narrative momentum in sequence,” she said.
Reacting to her win, Putuma said: “I never imagined that poetry would be part of my life in such a big way. I never imagined that it would bring so many amazing moments with it. Winning the Luschei Prize is definitely right up there with the best moments.”
For uHlanga Press editor Nick Mulgrew, it is “awards such as this [that] make the travails of publishing poetry in South Africa. . . rewarding and satisfying.”
Koleka Putuma is a poet and theatre practitioner. She is a 2018 Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 Honoree and the recipient of the 2018 Imbewu Trust Scribe Playwrighting Award, the 2017 Mbokodo Rising Light award, the 2017 CASA playwrighting award, and the 2019 Distell Playwrighting Award for her play No Easter Sunday for Queers, and her poem “Water” was shortlisted for the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Poetry.
Putuma has been called “one of the young pioneers who took South Africa by storm” by the Sunday Times, “one of twelve future shapers” by Marie Claire SA, “the groundbreaking new voice of South African poetry” by OkayAfrica, “one of one hundred young people disrupting the status-quo in South Africa” by independent media, with Brittle Paper calling her marketing success “a lesson in innovation.” Collective Amnesia, named the 2017 book of the year by the City Press and one of the best books of 2017 by the Sunday Times and Quartz Africa, has been translated into Spanish and released in Madrid by Flores Rara. A German translation is forthcoming from Wunderhorn Publishing House later this year, and a Danish translation will be published by Rebel with a Cause in Denmark in 2020. Putuma blogs at cocoputuma.wordpress.com.
Previous winners of the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry are the Nigerian Chijioke Amu-nnadi’s Through the Window of a Sandcastle for 2014, the South African Kobuls Moolman’s Book of Rooms for 2015, the Mosotho Rethabile Masilo’s Waslap for 2016, and the Ugandan Juliane Okot Bitek’s 100 Days for 2017.
Brittle Paper congratulates Koleka Putuma, Dami Ajayi, and Nick Makoha.
BUY THE BOOKS:
- Koleka Putuma: Collective Amnesia (uHlanga Press, 2017)
- Dami Ajayi: A Woman’s Body Is a Country (Ouida Books, 2017)
- Nick Makoha: Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press, 2017)
Graph image from OkayAfrica.