South 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.