Othuke Umokoro Wins 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize

Othuke Umokoro has emerged winner of the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize with his poem titled “A Mountain Cracks Before Translation”.

The £3,000 prize winner, Othuke Umokoro, is a poet and playwright who studied playwriting at the University of Ibadan and teaches literature to high school students.

The judges this year were poets: Karen McCarthy Woolf (Chair), Rustum Kozain (South Africa) and Makhosazana Xaba (South Africa). They were unanimous in their decision and have this to say about the winning poems:

“The language is lush, mesmeric at times and the balance between lyric and narrative deftly handled. There is a technical competence too. These are unafraid, thoughtful pieces — playful, yet serious, making us look at love, life, mortality afresh. The elegiac A Mountain Cracks Before Translation — mourning the suicide of a brother found hanging — heartbreaking, but never gratuitous in its detail. 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.”

On receiving the prize, 31-year-old Othuke Umokoro stated:

“It feels good to have won. Really good. The glory of it is huge. For me, it means more work to be done. I told my students the news the other day and they were so happy. They all want to be poets, like me.”  

In the heat of the coronavirus lockdown—in the drowning death toll, the surge in domestic abuse/violence, the vulnerabilities of folks living with HIV, and mental health issues—I became more aware of the vault in our individual terrors and burdens. Poetry is the safe house I run to in times of great sadness.

Read African poets. The contemporary ones, especially, are at the forefront of the literary scene. Their voice is fearless. The topics they take on are broad and their language is well rooted in rich imagery and can move mountains. The shortlist this year is yet another testament to this truth.”

Othuke recalls a childhood spent fishing and learning to read from his mother.

More than 1,000 people entered the eighth Brunel University London-backed contest – the world’s biggest cash prize for African poetry. When 2019 Booker Prize winner, Bernardine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel, founded the Prize, African poetry was practically invisible. Now they are everywhere and making their mark in the literary landscape.

The prize is aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa as well as open to African poets worldwide.

The other poets on the 2021 shortlist were Kweku Abimbola from Gambia, Uganda’s Arao Ameny, Isabelle Baafi from South Africa, Somalia’s Asmaa Jama, Tumello Motabola from Lesotho and Nigeria’s Oluwadare Popoola and Yomi Sode.

Past winners: Warsan Shire (2013); Liyou Libsekal (2014); Safia Elhillo & Nick Makoha (2015); Gbenga Adesina & Chekwube O. Danladi (2016); Romeo Oriogun (2017); Hiwot Adilow, Theresa Lola & Momtaza Mehri (2018); Nadra Mabrouk & Jamila Osman (2019); Rabha Ashry (2020).

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