The Zambian-born poet Cheswayo Mphanza has been awarded the 2020 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, for his manuscript The Rinehart Frames. The finalists were the Egyptian-American Hazem Fahmy for Id, the Nigerian O-Jeremiah Agbaakin for The Root of the Word Babble is Babel, and the Moroccan El Habib Louai for Rotten Wounds Embalmed with Tar.
Founded in 2013, along with its parent organisation, the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF), and backed by the philanthropists Laura and Robert FX Sillerman, the $1,000 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets honours the finest first full-length poetry manuscript by an African and comes with a publication offer from the University of Nebraska Press. Mphanza’s manuscript will be published in the university press’ African Poetry Book Series in the spring of 2021.
Born in Lusaka and raised in Chicago, Cheswayo Mphanza is a co-recipient, with Nkateko Masinga, of The 2019 Brittle Paper Anniversary Award for their conversation on contemporary African poetry. His work has appeared in New England Review, New Orleans Review, American Literary Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Callaloo, Columbia University, and Cave Canem. A finalist for the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and a recipient of the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers, he earned his MFA from Rutgers-Newark.
“Part and parcel of what I love about writing is that it gives me an opportunity to be careful with myself and others,” Mphanza wrote in a Facebook post. “I give myself a moment to sit in all my histories, the interconnected lives around me of the past and present, and be vulnerable and humbled in it all. To accept what has happened to us and what we have done to ourselves and others as a result. Then, what is always the interminable ambition is to refine and redefine myself and others in the most holistic modalities possible. Which is what my writing of The Rinehart Frames encapsulates at this stage of my life. Immense gratitude to the African Poetry Book Fund and the University of Nebraska Press for this honor which shall always remain indelible.”
The Sillerman Prize is judged by the Editorial Board of the African Poetry Book Fund, which includes Chris Abani, Gabeba Baderoon, Bernardine Evaristo, Aracelis Girmay, John Keene, Matthew Shenoda, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and the director Kwame Dawes. Currently in its eighth year, all of its winners have come from different countries: 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; Zimbabwe’s Bernard Matambo in 2017, for Stray; Botswana’s TJ Dema in 2018, for The Careless Seamstress; and Nigeria’s ‘Gbenga Adeoba in 2019, for Exodus. And now Zambia.
The 2021 Sillerman Prize will open for submissions on September 1, 2020.
Brittle Paper congratulates Cheswayo Mphanza.