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Koleka PutumaSouth African poet Koleka Putuma has been named the winner of the African Poetry Book Fund’s 2018 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, for her collection Collective Amnesia (uHlanga Press, 2017). Award-winning writer and scholar Bernardine Evaristo judged this year’s prize, which annually awards $1,000 USD to a book of poetry by an African writer published in the previous year. Putuma will receive this year’s prize.

Of Putuma’s winning book, judge Evaristo writes, “Everything about this poetry debut feels fresh and timely. Putuma, writing from a queer female perspective, has a liberated poetic voice that engages with politics, race, religion, relationships, sexuality, feminism and more. There is also risky formal innovation, emotional and intellectual complexity, biblical intertextuality and a stirring declamatory audibility.”

On winning the prize, Putuma said, “I never imagined that poetry would be part of my life in such a big way. I never imagined that it would bring so many amazing moments with it. Winning the Luschei Prize is definitely right up there with the best moments.”

Nick Mulgrew, editor at uHlanga, a small press based in South Africa, was excited for Putuma. “Awards such as this,” he said, “make the travails of publishing poetry in South Africa…rewarding and satisfying.”

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet and theatre practitioner. She is a 2018 Forbes Africa Under 30 Honoree and the recipient of the 2018 Imbewu Trust Scribe Playwrighting Award, the 2017 Mbokodo Rising Light award, the 2017 CASA playwrighting award, and the 2019 Distell Playwrighting Award for her play No Easter Sunday for Queers. She has been called “one of the young pioneers who took South Africa by storm” by the Sunday Times, “one of twelve future shapers” by Marie Claire SA, “the groundbreaking new voice of South African poetry” by OkayAfrica, and “one of one hundred young people disrupting the status-quo in South Africa” by independent media. Collective Amnesia was named 2017 book of the year by the City Press and one of the best books of 2017 by the Sunday Times and Quartz Africa. It has been translated into Spanish and released in Madrid by Flores Rara. A German translation is forthcoming from Wunderhorn Publishing House later this year, and a Danish translation will be published by Rebel with a Cause in Denmark in 2020. To learn more about Koleka Putuma, visit cocoputuma.wordpress.com. Copies of Collective Amnesia  may be purchased online from the African Books Collective and Amazon.

Two other books were finalists. Bernardine Evaristo praised Dami Ajayi’s A Woman’s Body Is a Country (Ouida Books), which “illuminates the slips between memory and desire, family, community, and place.” She also celebrated Nick Makoha’s “assured poetic voice that is epic, majestic, timeless” in his collection Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press).

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.

APBF thanks all of the poets and publishers who submitted books to the 2018 Glenna Luschei Prize. The 2019 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry will open to submissions of books by African poets published during 2018 on June 15, 2019. To learn more about the African Poetry Book Fund and its initiatives, visit www.africanpoetrybf.unl.edu.

 

Each year the African Poetry Book Fund awards the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry in order to recognize a significant book published by an African poet published during the previous calendar year. The winner of the prize receives $1000 USD. This year’s contest was judged by Bernardine Evaristo, an Anglo-Nigerian author of eight books of fiction and verse fiction, as well as a founding member of the APBF Editorial Board. Evaristo has selected three finalists for this year’s Luschei PrizeA Woman’s Body Is a Country by Dami Ajayi (Ouida Books), Kingdom of Gravity by Nick Makoha (Peepal Tree Press), and Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma (uHlanga Press). The winner will be announced on May 31.


Evaristo praised finalist Ajayi as “a dexterous and versatile poet who flexes his linguistic muscles with surprising revelations that offer new perspectives as he illuminates the slips between memory and desire, family, community, and place.” In A Woman’s Body Is a Country, Evaristo writes, “He bravely exposes intimacies and his vulnerable self through poems that are honest and confessional.”

For more perspective on A Woman’s Body is a Country, read IfeOluwa Nihinlola‘s review in Brittle Paper.

Ajayi’s A Woman’s Body Is a Country, is available on Amazon or elsewhere.

Nick Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity considers the terrifying Idi Amin dictatorship in Uganda, the armed struggle against it, and Makoha’s flight into exile with his parents. “Makoha crafts, contains, and intensifies this brutal, lawless, and shocking history into the most finely chiseled poems that stand alone in their graphic brilliance and gain narrative momentum in sequence,” Evaristo said. Of Makoha’s work, Evaristo continued, “His is an assured poetic voice that is epic, majestic, timeless.”

Makoha spoke with Gaamangwe Joy Mogami about the book, fatherhood, and more at Africa in Dialogue.

Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity is available from the publisher or on Amazon.


And of Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia, Evaristo said, “Everything about this poetry debut feels fresh and timely. Putuma has a liberated poetic voice that engages with politics, race, religion, relationships, sexuality, feminism, and more.”

Sabelo Mkhabela‘s OkayAfrica review of Collective Amnesia begins with a rather blunt statement of praise: “Koleka Putuma is a rockstar.”

Putuma’s Collective Amnesia is available from African Books Collective or on Amazon.

Congratulations to our three finalists and their publishers on these stunning contributions to African poetry in 2017.


About the Judge: Bernardine Evaristo is the  award-winning author of seven books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora. Her latest novel is Girl, Woman, Other (Penguin UK, May 2019) and others Mr LovermanBlonde RootsLara, and The Emperor’s Babe. Her writing spans short stories, essays, poetry, literary criticism, stage, and radio writing. A longstanding advocate for the inclusion of writers of color, she founded the Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2012 and The Complete Works poets development scheme in 2007-2017. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and its current Vice Chair. She was appointed an MBE in 2009. For more, visit www.bevaristo.com