Romeo Oriogun from Nigeria has been named winner of the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize for his “beautiful and deeply passionate” writing on masculinity and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution.
Now in its fifth year, the £3,000 major poetry prize is aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa. It is open to African poets worldwide who have not yet published a full poetry collection.
The judges were unanimous this year in their decision that among a shortlist of ten stunning new poets, selected from nearly 1,200 entries, Oriogun – who only begun writing three years ago - should receive the prize.
The judges said: “Romeo Oriogun is a hugely talented, outstanding, and urgent new voice in African poetry. His poetry is wide ranging but at its heart are deeply passionate, shocking, imaginative, complex and ultimately beautiful explorations of masculinity, sexuality and desire in a country that does not recognise LGBT rights. We wish him all the best for the future.”
Oriogun lives and writes in Udi, a small town in Eastern Nigeria. His poems have been featured in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Expound, Praxis, and others. He is the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis Magazine online.
In a recent interview, Oriogun explained that he entered the Brunel International African Poetry Prize because “in Africa there are very few spaces for queer writing, I thought it was a means of sharing my poems” and described reaching the shortlist as “a blessing and a surprise.”
In discussing hardships and threats in Nigeria he said: “Sometimes this is the price I pay for writing but it is better than keeping quiet. I know queer people may not be free to love openly in my lifetime but it is a journey and we are laying the stones for the future.
“Each poem I write is a door into another, I don’t dwell much on my writing but I’m moved when someone says because of my poems he knows he’s not alone and his feelings are valid. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is living a life of its own and it’s traveling with light into dark places.”
Oriogun was one of four Nigerian poets to reach this year’s shortlist, which included Sahro Ali (Somalia); Leila Chatti (Tunisia); Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia); Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigeria); Yalie Kamara (Sierra Leone); Kechi Nomu (Nigeria); Richard Oduor Oduku (Kenya); Rasaq Malik (Nigeria); and Nick Makoha (Uganda).
The judges this year were the poets and academics: Chris Abani (Northwestern University); Kwame Dawes (University of Nebraska); Safia Elhillo (winner of the 2015 Prize); Patricia Jabbeh Welsley (Penn State University) and chair and founder, Bernardine Evaristo (Brunel University London).
The Prize is a partnership between Brunel and Commonwealth Writers, and works closely with Kwame Dawes and the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) at the University of Nebraska.
All the winners and most of the shortlisted poets of the past four years have had poetry pamphlets published with APBF in their New Generation African Poets series of box sets, in partnership with US publishers Slappering Hol Press and Akashic Books. Some of these poets have also published, or are about to publish, their first full length collections.
“African poetry is now undergoing a revolution with the publication of many brilliantly unique poets who are changing the literary landscape of the continent,” the prize judges said.
2013 Warsan Shire (Somalia)
2014 Liyou Libsekal (Ethiopia)
2015 Safia Elhillo (Sudan) & Nick Makoha (Uganda)
2016 Gbenga Adesina (Nigeria) & Chekwube O. Danladi (Nigeria)
Read Romeo Origun's winning poems
Visit africanpoetryprize.org for more information
Read more on The Voice, The Bookseller, Premium Times (Nigeria), Africa in Dialogue, Brittle Paper, and the Daily Trust
Sarah Cox, Media Relations