Adedayo Agarau Wins Poetic Justice Book Prize for “Achingly Personal, Coming-of-Age” Poems

The Nigerian poet and editor of Agbowo’s “searing” The Years of Blood has “vivid, unsettling imagery drawing on Yoruba cosmology and folklore.” It is forthcoming in Fall 2025.
Adedayo Agarau wins Poetic Justice Book Prize

Adedayo Agarau's "searing" debut "immerses readers in the haunting of his childhood in Ibadan, Nigeria."

Adedayo Agarau Wins Poetic Justice Book Prize for “Achingly Personal, Coming-of-Age” Poems

The Nigerian poet Adedayo Agarau has won a Poetic Justice Institute Book Prize for his manuscript The Years of Blood. He received the organisation’s Editors Prize for a BIPOC Writer, which comes with $1,000 and a publication deal. 

Here is an exclusive synopsis:

In this searing debut, Adedayo Agarau immerses readers in the haunting of his childhood in Ibadan, Nigeria, set against the country’s turbulent transition from military rule to democracy. With vivid, unsettling imagery and evocative language drawing on Yoruba cosmology and folklore, Agarau conjures a world where shadows pulse with evil, children are sacrificed for ritual magic, and violence permeates the very air. He also captures the boisterous joy and games of young boys, the sustaining bonds of family and culture, and a fierce, communal determination to remember the lost and forge a better future. Agarau expertly wields a dichotomy of terrors and wonders, rendering an almost mythic portrayal of a society riven by brutality yet still grounded in the poet’s achingly personal, coming-of-age story.

The Years of Blood is a brilliant, shattering, and ultimately cathartic read, signaling the arrival of the sincere, trustworthy voice of one of Africa’s leading poets. Agarau’s electrifying verses will seize you by the throat and never let go.

Adedayo Agarau is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a Cave Canem Fellow. He obtained his MFA in 2023 at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he won the Deena Davidson Friedman Scholarship, the John C. Shupe Scholarship, and the 2023 Summer scholarship from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His poems have been featured in Poetry Magazine, Poetry Society of America, World Literature Today and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbooks Origin of Names (African Poetry Book Fund, 2020) and The Arrival of Rain (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2020). He is Editor-in-Chief of Agbowó.

Our review of his The Origin of Name notes:

Adedayo Agarau is what the Yorùbá call akéwì: someone who sings wisdom, who chants profound lines.

An akéwì’s wisdom is fed by the wealth that is their forbears and what they have left behind. An akéwì is also—and this is his major duty—a storyteller. To do this, he has to have good knowledge and imagination. He alludes to the past, dreams the future enough for it to be palpable to the stranger that is the listener (in this case, the reader), and he sings the complex music of a particular moment.

“I am so grateful to Elizabeth Frost and JoAnne McFarland for selecting this manuscript,” Agarau told Open Country Mag. “This collection, which I started in my small room in Coralville and completed in Iowa City, in Dey House, and in my house on South Lucas, is a work that archives a really dark, poorly documented time in Nigerian politics. The narrative is wide, spotted around Nigeria, but in The Years of Blood, I have collated memories of people, friends, strangers, and what it was like growing up in Ibadan amidst this violence. This prize means a lot to me.”

The Poetic Justice Institute’s overall prize went to the American poet Marcella Durand, for A Winter Triangle.

Both books will be released by Fordham University Press in Fall 2025.

We congratulate Adedayo Agarau!


Otosirieze for Open Country Mag

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