South Africa’s Kobus Moolman Wins 2015 Glenna Luschei Prize for A Book of Rooms
by Ashley Strosnider
Kobus Moolman’s collection A Book of Rooms (Deep South, 2014) has been named the winner of the African Poetry Book Fund’s 2015 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, which awards $5,000 USD. The prize was judged by award-winning poet and scholar Gabeba Baderoon. Moolman will receive $5,000 USD.
The African Poetry Book fund, established through the generosity of Laura and Robert F. X. Sillerman and in partnership with the literary journal Prairie Schooner, seeks to celebrate and cultivate the poetic arts of Africa. The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, funded by literary philanthropist and poet Glenna Luschei and the only pan-African book prize of its kind, promotes African poetry written in English or in translation by recognizing a significant book published each year by an African poet.
Baderoon says of reading A Book of Rooms, “Moolman’s poems in this collection are electric, visceral, brilliantly experimental, and profoundly moving.” In Moolman’s book each poem is named for and unfolds the world of a specific room: The Room of Spillage, The Room of Maybe, The Room of Green, and more. As Baderoon explains the sense of movement through the collection, “In this close reading of spaces, we trace walls, windows, curtains, corners, our attention caught by the cut beneath the door, illumination flaring from glints of memory…. Yet if his flesh is betrayed, and his heart breaks into silence and shame, the hole in his heart also opens into speech.
Kwame Dawes, Director of the African Poetry Book Fund, was thrilled to receive Baderoon’s selection, saying, “Every time we bring attention to the wonderful poetry being written by African poets today, we are enacting something quite important for African literary arts, and Moolman, whose poetry I have followed for a number of years, is a poet that more people should know. Our hope is that in some small way, this prize will aid in that larger effort.”
Moolman himself describes the poems in A Book of Rooms as an “emotionally honest and direct” examination of his personal experiences “growing up as a white South African during apartheid” and “growing up and living with a disability (spina bifida),” facing violences domestic, psychological, and physical. The book’s narrative tells a single extended story across the linked poems in the collection, in what Moolman calls “a brave/foolhardy attempt to shake up the distinction between truth (fact) and fiction, between autobiography and invention. Karl Knausgard called this Autobiographical Fiction. I think of it as a form of lying that tells a deeper truth.”
In addition to Moolman’s winning collection, Baderoon named two other finalists, Joan Metelerkamp’s Now the World Takes These Breaths (Modjaji Books, 2014) and Togara Muzanenhamo’s Gumiguru (Carcanet Press, 2014). Christine Coates’s Homegrown (Modjaji Books, 2014) also received an Honorable Mention. Speaking about her top selections, Baderoon said, “these books felt thoughtfully shaped, rivetingly intelligent, and superbly crafted. I found them a pleasure and an education to read. Indeed, my horizons were vastly expanded by the extraordinarily well-realized poems in these collections.”
In considering what the Luschei Prize might mean for the African poetry community, Moolman says he believes poets “write into and against and back to the work of each other – overtly or not. We write not in a vacuum, but on a continuum, where our works move along a scale of isolation and influence. A prize like the Glenna Luschei award is a valuable record of this community and this continuum.”
Kobus Moolman, of South Africa, is the author of seven collections of poetry, and several plays. He has won almost every poetry prize offered in South Africa: the Ingrid Jonker prize, the PANSA award, the South African Literary Award, the DALRO poetry prize and the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry award. He teaches creative writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His 2013 release, Left Over (Dye Hard Press, 2013), was a finalist for the inaugural 2014 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry.
APBF would like to sincerely thank all the poets and publishers who submitted books to the Glenna Luschei Prize. The 2016 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry will open to submissions of books by African poets published during 2015 on May 1, 2016. To learn more about the African Poetry Book Fund and its initiatives, visit www.africanpoetrybf.unl.edu.