Nigeria’s Romeo Oriogun has been named winner of the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
The competition is open to African poets worldwide who are yet to publish a full poetry collection.
The poetry prize award of £3,000 cash prize is in its fifth year.
Romeo’s “beautiful and deeply passionate” writing on masculinity and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution earned him the top spot.
The judges said, “Romeo Oriogun is a hugely talented, outstanding, and urgent new voice in African poetry. His poetry is wide ranging but at its heart are deeply passionate, shocking, imaginative, complex and ultimately beautiful explorations of masculinity, sexuality and desire in a country that does not recognise LGBT rights. We wish him all the best for the future.”
Oriogun lives and writes in Udi, a small town in Enugu State. His poems have been featured in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Expound, Praxis, and others. He is the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis Magazine online.
Oriogun explained that he entered the Brunel International African Poetry Prize because “in Africa there are very few spaces for queer writing, I thought it was a means of sharing my poems.” He described reaching the shortlist as “a blessing and a surprise.”
In discussing hardships and threats in Nigeria he said: “Sometimes this is the price I pay for writing but it is better than keeping quiet. I know queer people may not be free to love openly in my lifetime but it is a journey and we are laying the stones for the future.”
“The judges were unanimous this year in their decision that among a shortlist of ten stunning new poets, selected from nearly 1,200 entries, Oriogun – who only begun writing three years ago – should receive the prize,” said the organisers.
The judges include Chris Abani (Northwestern University); Kwame Dawes (University of Nebraska); Safia Elhillo (winner of the 2015 Prize); Patricia Jabbeh Welsley (Penn State University) and chair and founder, Bernardine Evaristo (Brunel University London)
The latter said, “Romeo Oriogun is a hugely talented, outstanding, and urgent new voice in African poetry.”
Aside from Oriogun, Nigerian poets Saddiq Dzukogi, Rasak Malik Gbolahan, and Kechi Nomu were also shortlisted for the prize alongside Sahro Ali (Somalia) Leila Chatti (Tunisia), Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia), Yalie Kamara (Sierra Leone), Richard Oduour Oduku (Kenya) and Nick Makoha (Uganda).
All the winners and most of the shortlisted poets of the past four years have had poetry pamphlets published with APBF in their New Generation African Poets series of box sets, in partnership with U.S. publishers Slappering Hol Press and Akashic Books. Some of these poets have also published, or are about to publish, their first full length collections.
“African poetry is now undergoing a revolution with the publication of many brilliantly unique poets who are changing the literary landscape of the continent,” the prize judges said.
The previous winners of the award are: 2013, Warsan Shire (Somalia); 2014, Liyou Libsekal (Ethiopia); 2015, Safia Elhillo (Sudan) and Nick Makoha (Uganda); 2016, Gbenga Adesina (Nigeria) and Chekwube Danladi (Nigeria).