Friday, August 03, 2012

launch of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize

Bernardine Evaristo

The British-Nigerian novelist and poet Bernardine Evaristo has initiated an important new £3,000 prize for African poets: the Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Evaristo, the author of six books and verse fiction, teaches creative writing at Brunel University in West London.

North African poets may hope that they will have more of a "presence" in this prize than North African fiction writers have had so far in the Caine Prize for African Writing, now in its 13th year, which is awarded for a short story. Evaristo was the chair of this year's judges for the Caine Prize.

The prize aims to develop, celebrate and promote poetry from Africa. It is sponsored by Brunel University and partnered by Commonwealth Writers, the Africa Centre UK, and the African Poetry Book Fund USA.The prize will be open for entries from 1 September to 30 November and the winner will be announced at the end of April 2013. The organisers stress that no poems should be submitted before the prize opens for entries.

Kwame Dawes

The panel of judges includes the Ghanaian-Jamaican poet, writer and scholar Kwame Dawes - who is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a faculty member of the Pacific MFA program in Oregon - and the academic Mpalive Msiska, Reader in English and Humanities, with research interests in Post-Colonial Literatures and Critical and Cultural Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.. There will also be an advisory committee. Further details of the judges and committee will be announced soon.

 Mpalive Msiska

Entrants for the prize must submit ten different poems, which may already been published. The prize is designed with emerging poets particularly in mind: only poets who have not yet had a full-length poetry book published are eligible. However, poets who have self-published poetry books, or have had chapbooks and pamphlets published, are eligible to enter. Although only poetry written in English in eligible, "translated poetry is accepted, but a percentage of the prize will be awarded to the translator."

Evaristo explains her reasons for initiatiating a new prize devoted to African poetry:

‘I have judged several prizes in the past few years, including chairing the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2012, an award that has revitalised the fortunes of fiction from Africa since its inception in 1999. It became clear to me that poetry from the continent could also do with a prize to draw attention to it and to encourage a new generation of poets who might one day become an international presence.

"I am particularly interested in new voices who are exploring poetry that perhaps draws on the poets’ own cultural aesthetics – doing something original, something different. African poets are rarely published in Britain. I hope this prize will introduce exciting new poets to Britain’s poetry editors.’

The new prize aims to open up new publishing opportunities for African poets. Prairie Schooner, one of the leading literary presses in the USA, with an 85-year track record, has committed itself to publishing some of the work of the winning poets of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Wasafiri, the leading British journal of international writing, will also publish the winner. Similar arrangements are to be pursued with other major literary journals in the United Kingdom and the US. (Perhaps Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature, will get involved).

The prize is to be incorporated by the African Poetry Book Fund, newly established by Kwame Dawes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Evaristo and Dawes first worked together in 1995. When they discovered two months ago that they were both launching African poetry prizes, they decided to combine their efforts and resources.

As well as incorporating the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, the African Poetry Book Fund will incorporate the establishment of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. The African Poetry Book Fund will also incorporate the new African Poetry Book Series, to be published by the University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Press in Senegal.

Commonwealth Writers, a co-partner of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, is a new cultural programme within the Commonwealth Foundation which develops, connects, and inspires writers. It dubs itself "a world of new fiction". It  Through awarding prizes and running on-the-ground activities, it works in partnership with international literary organisations, the wider cultural industries and civil society to help writers develop their craft in the 54 Commonwealth countries. Its prizes are the Commonwealth Book Prize, and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Brunel University is a public research university located in Uxbridge, west London. It is named after the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In 2011 it won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. The university notes it has seen "phenomenal rises in the recent university ranking guides. In the first Times Higher Education guide to the top 100 universities founded in the last 50 years, Brunel is placed 1st in London, 6th in the UK, and 35th internationally. English and Creative Writing have been ranked in the top quartile of the Guardian University Guide 2013."
report by Susannah Tarbush

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