Zambian poet and editor Cheswayo Mphanza wins the 2020 Boston Review’s Annual Poetry Contest for his poems “Notes Towards a Biography of Henry Tayali” and “Djibril Diop Mambety Scene Description.”

Boston Review put out a call for submissions in February on the theme of “Ancestors.” Mphanza was selected winner by judge Alexis Pauline Gumbs over four finalists and eight semi-finalists. On his winning poems, the judge said:

 “I love what Cheswayo Mphanza is doing and asking us to do by centering visual art and film in these two poems. Mphanza is asking us to see what we cannot see as a route to knowing what we cannot know, or to see differently what we think we know. The approach in “Notes Towards a Biography of Henry Tayali”—to start with a painting that the reader cannot see and to move behind it to an image of the life of the artist—is such an exciting poetic take on what biography is. How do we chart life? How remember that everything we perceive is something created out of something we can not see. “Djibril Diop Mambety Scene Description” asks us to get to the poetics behind and beyond what we see in filmic representation, but also how we envision nation, change, intimacy and love. Mphanza offers poetry as an agent that causes permeability, allowing these poems to take us so close to the ancestral artists invoked here that we are in their process, we are in their work. We almost become paintings, films, or poems ourselves. But what happens is even better. We, they, all of us remain possible.”

Winning the prize means that Mphanza’s poems will be published in Boston Review‘s special winter arts issue on ancestors. Mphanza was born in Lusaka, Zambia and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His work has been featured in or is forthcoming from The 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 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and a recipient of the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers, he earned his MFA from Rutgers-Newark.

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Brittle Paper Congratulates Cheswayo Mphanza.