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Mournful tone to final African Poetry Prize shortlist

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The pick of poetry shortlisted for 2022’s Brunel International African Poetry Prize strikes a sad note in many ways as the ten-year-old title goes into retirement.

Driven by Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, The African Poetry Book Fund will take on the £3,000 competition renamed the Evaristo African Poetry Prize.

Brunel University London has backed the award since 2012 – when inaugural winner was Warsan Shire, whose words poured poetry into Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade.

This year’s judges said they had a rich and crop of collections to select their shortlist from featuring themes such as families, the body and history, but the bunch seem to contain a lot of sadness.  

“Many strike a deeply melancholic note, and even a sense of mourning,” they said. “But they are alive to the currents of history and the way poetry’s memorial practices animate the raw intimacy between the seen and unseen.”

“It is fitting that after a decade of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, we find here African voices liberated from prescriptions of form and ideas”, judges added. 

Prof Evaristo, who teaches creative writing at Brunel has worked with with the US-based African Poetry Book Fund since she founded the African Poetry Prize: “I am so pleased that they have agreed to take it on and ensure its future,” she said.

“Every year the standard of entries for the Prize continues to rise and this year is no exception, with a scintillating array of talent and voices. This and other initiatives have caused a major sea change in the spread and fortunes of African poetry around the world.”

On the 2022 shortlist are: Chisom Okafor, a 28-year-old Nigerian poet living and writing in Lagos while working as a clinical nutritionist; Fellow Nigerian Adedayo Agarau who studies at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Fahad Al-Amoudi, a poet and editor of Ethiopian and Yemeni heritage based in London; Zimbabwean writer and entrepreneur Zibusiso Mpofu. Born in Bulawayo in the South of the country, Zibusis fell in love with words at a young age and would lose himself in the universes created in the books he read; Edil Hassan, a Somali-American poet and writer who teaches poetry at The University of Washington; Bristol-based Somali artist and poet, Asmaa Jama who co-founded a feminist art collective of Somali women and queer poet and

The winner will be announced on May 2 and the first Evaristo African Poetry Prize will start gathering entries in September.