The Nigerian poet Othuke Umukoro has been named winner of the $3,000 Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2021. He was chosen from a shortlist of eight poets, including Gambia’s Kweku Abimbola, Uganda’s Arao Ameny, South Africa’s Isabelle Baafi, Somalia’s Asmaa Jama, Lesotho’s Tumello Motabola, and Nigeria’s Oluwadare Popoola and Yomi Sode.
Founded by Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo in 2012, and sponsored by Brunel University London, the Brunel Prize is aimed at “the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa.” Open to poets who have not published a full-length poetry collection, past winners and shortlisters have gone on to make their mark in the literary industry.
The panel of three judges—Karen McCarthy Woolf, the chair; Rustum Kozain; and Makhosazana Xaba—had this to say about Umukoro’s winning poems:
The language is lush, mesmeric at times and the balance between lyric and narrative deftly handled. A complex poet, with the formal skills to match the weight of the subjects he takes on, whether it’s sexuality and the family dynamic, HIV, or nature, ecology and politics.
Also a playwright and educator, Othuke Umukoro graduated from the University of Ibadan. His poems engage with “the language of quietness, the geography of memory, home, depression, hope, loss & occasionally the ‘other’ that hovers around traditional father-son relationships.”
In “Debris,” the persona, who is HIV positive, claims: “My father isn’t talking to me.” Close to the end of the poem, the persona laments: “I can’t tell you if my father will ever/ come around to love me again.”
In the other poems—which engage with memory, war, home, and suicide—the father figure appears, as well as other family members: mother and brother. This familial vibe is what throbs in Umukoro’s writing.
On Twitter, Umukoro wrote: “I dedicate this award to my beautiful mother, an immortal light on my path. Thank you, Jesus!”
Past winners of the Brunel Prize are the British Somali Warsan Shire in 2013; the Ethiopian Liyou Libsekal in 2014; the Sudanese-American Safia Elhillo and the Ugandan Nick Makoha in 2015; the Nigerians Gbenga Adesina and Chekwube O. Danladi in 2016; the Nigerian Romeo Oriogun in 2017; the Ethiopian-American Hiwot Adilow, the British Nigerian Theresa Lola, and the Somali British Momtaza Mehri in 2018; the Egyptian Nadra Mabrouk and the Somali Jamila Osman in 2019; and the Egyptian Rabha Ashry in 2020.
Read Othuke Umukoro’s work here.