The Zimbabwean poet and filmmaker Zibusiso Mpofu wins the 2022 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. He was announced winner from a finalist cohort that included South Africa’s Conor Kogil, Somalia’s Asmaa Jama and Edil Hassan, Ethiopia’s Fahad Al-Amoudi, and Nigeria’s Adedayo Agarau and Chisom Okafor.
Mpofu’s win is historical for a few reasons. He is the first winner from Zimbabwe. He is also the first winning poet not from recurring favorites: Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt and Somalia.
Like last year’s winner, we at Brittle Paper are proud to have published Mpofu’s work. Just last year, we published his beautiful poetry piece titled “Hu Jia Lun”. His work has also also featured on Poetry Bulawayo and Work in Progress Hong Kong. He was longlisted for the 2018 Babishai Niwe poetry prize.
The judging panel, which includes Tjawangwa Dema, Tsitsi Jaji, and Gabeba Baderoon as chair, were reportedly unanimous in their choice of winner. They also decided on an honorable mention for Somalian poet Asmaa Jama.
While praising the entire shortlist as voices that were “liberated from prescriptions of form and ideas” and “richly varied selection marked by confident experimentation with formal strategies”, the judges were full of particular praise for Mpofu’s. They described his winning work as:
His allusive, lyrical poems open a new itinerary in African poetry, drawing in Shona and Mandarin and mapping a journey of the Black body through India, Hong Kong, the Philippines and China. Superbly crafted, the poems unfold in unexpected directions, balancing raw realism and nearly mystical understatement. Mpofu’s urgent silences and aching directness are all the more remarkable given the testimonial-like and retrospective nature of his lines. Touching on migration, the family, identity, art and an odyssey through many Asias, the poems narrate a harrowing, riveting postcolonial passage, and arrive at ending of surprising revelation. Mpofu is a worthy recipient of the tenth Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
Launched by Booker Prize-winning Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo and Brunel University, the Poetry Prize was founded in 2012 to spotlight and make household names of emerging, talented African poets. The testament to the success of this vision is evident in the wonderful string of accomplishments garnered by selected winners post-wins. Warsan Shire, it’s very first winner, was elected into the Royal Society of Literature and collaborated with music icon Beyoncé on her Grammy Award-winning album Lemonade. Romeo Oriogun was named a Harvard Fellow and had his debut collection shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award, and Theresa Lola was named a 2019 Young People’s Laureate for London, to name a few.
The Brunel Prize ran for a decade under Evaristo’s administration and partial funding until it was recently adopted by the African Poetry Book Fund—which also administers the Sillerman First Book Prize, among others—and renamed the Evaristo African Poetry Prize, after its founder.
Previous winners of the prize include Somalia’s Warsan Shire in 2013, Ethiopia’s Liyou Libsekal in 2014, Sudan’s Safia Elhillo and Uganda’s Nick Makoha in 2015, Nigeria’s Gbenga Adesina and Chekwube O. Danladi in 2016, Nigeria’s Romeo Oriogun in 2017, and the trio of Somalia’s Momtaza Mehri, Nigeria’s Theresa Lola, and Ethiopia’s Hiwot Adilow in 2018, Somalia’s Jamila Osman and Egypt’s Nadra Mabrouk in 2019, Egypt’s Rabha Ashry in 2020, and Nigeria’s Othuke Umukoro in 2021.
Congratulations to Zibusiso Mpofu. We can wait to see what he does next!