Motswana poet Tawanda Mulalu has been announced as the winner of the 2023 Luschei Prize for African Poetry for his debut poetry collection Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die.

The African Poetry Book Fund promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts in Africa and runs the Luschei Prize as well, worth $1000. Funded by literary philanthropist and poet Glenna Luschei and the only pan-African book prize of its kind, the Prize promotes African poetry written in English or in translation by recognizing a significant book published each year by an African poet.

Tawanda Mulalu was born and raised in Botswana. His first book, Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die, was selected for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and is listed as a Best Poetry Book of 2022 by The Boston Globe, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Mulalu’s poems have appeared in Brittle Paper, Lana Turner, Lolwe, The New England Review, The Paris Review, A Public Space and elsewhere. He is presently a fellow at The Michener Center for Writers and served as a judge for the 2023 Poetry Society of America annual awards.

Author John Keene judged this year’s prize and remarked that Mulalu’s collection is a stunning exploration of the experiences of diasporic Black Africans in white America:

How to put into words the unsettling beauty and strangeness of Tawanda Mulalu’s Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die? As if in lucid dreams, these poems’ speakers—teachers, students, thinkers, readers, lovers, sons—explore their contemporary reality as diasporic Black Africans in White spaces throughout America, utilizing deadpan irony, rhetoric, humor, pathos, a great deal of literary and musical reference, and a range of poetic forms (songs, elegies, prayers, film studies, arias, near-sestinas, and more) Mulalu has invented or remade. Mulalu, originally from Gaborone, Botswana, does so in part with the aim of a world-making that, even when in conversation with prior poets and poems, when tackling personal issues such his isolation and exile or public events such as the police murder of Philando Castile, or when riffing on Shakespeare or Pokémon, feels distinctly his own. A sparkling debut, Tawanda Mulalu’s Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die marks a distinctive and galvanizing new talent and portends much original poetry to come.

Apart from Mulalu, the other finalists were Hussain Ahmed, Michele Betty, Aaron Brown, Aaiún Nin, and Linda Ann Strang.

Congrats to Tawanda Mulalu