Feranmi Ariyo and Gracia “Cianga” Mwamba. Photo sourced from African Poetry Book Fund.

The winners of the inaugural 2023 Evaristo Prize for African Poetry (formerly the Brunel International Prize for African Poetry) have been announced. They are Feranmi Ariyo (Nigeria) and Gracia “Cianga” Mwamba (Congo/USA).

The Evaristo Prize for African Poetry is an annual prize of $1,500 awarded to 10 poems written by an African poet. The prize was initially established as the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (BIAPP) in 2012 by British author Bernardine Evaristo. The Evaristo Prize was renamed in 2022 and is now administered by the African Poetry Book Fund.

The judges included Gabeba Baderoon, Tjawangwa Dema, and Tsitsi Jaji. They selected Mwamba and Ariyo from six shortlisted finalists and were impressed by the work of all the shortlists. The two winners will each received $750.

Gracia “Cianga” Mwamba

Gracia “Cianga” Mwamba is a Congolese artist based in California, by way of South Africa. She is a recipient of the Cave Canem + EcoTheo’s Starshine & Clay Fellowship, and currently an MFA candidate. She won the Evaristo Prize for her poem “Congo, seen from the heavens.” Read her prize-winning poems here.

The judges noted in Mwamba’s poems “an arresting economy and density of language, followed by an exhilarating formal range including prose, lyric, and an ear for the multiple directions in which a single word can gyrate. The first lines in “Congo, seen from the heavens” ask the striking question – does it matter who gazes?”

Feranmi Ariyo

Feranmi Ariyo is a Nigerian storyteller. He won the inaugural Edition of the Punocracy Prize for Satire in 2019 and was selected as a fellow for the Unserious Collective Fellowship in 2022. His chapbook I Watch you Disappear is forthcoming in KUMI: New-Generation African Poets Chapbooks Boxset. He won the Evaristo Prize for his poem “He Reads a Cancer Booklet.” Read his prize-winning poems here.

The judges remarked about Ariyo’s work:

These poems do not look away from the ‘incarnation of death wait[ing] eagerly’ in the hospital room and therefore the seeming capriciousness of individual life, unmasking of elemental relationships and uneven forms of knowing revealed by cancer. Yet their intimate view on loss also opens outward into worldedness.

Congrats to Mwamba and Ariyo!