Romeo Oriogun from Nigeria has won 2017’s £3,000 Brunel International African Poetry Prize for his “complex and ultimately beautiful” writing on masculinity, sexuality and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution.
The judges were unanimous in their decision, choosing Oriogun from a shortlist of 10 new poets, in turn selected from nearly 1,200 entries in total. Oriogun only begun writing three years ago but was hailed by the judges “a hugely talented, outstanding, and urgent new voice in African poetry”.
The poetry prize, sponsored by Brunel University and Commonwealth Writers, is intended to develop, celebrate and promote poetry from Africa, open to African poets worldwide who have not yet published a full poetry collection.
The judges, comprising poets and academics Chris Abani, Kwame Dawes, Safia Elhillo, Patricia Jabbeh Welsley, and chair and founder, Bernardine Evaristo, 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.”
They added, “African poetry is now undergoing a revolution with the publication of many brilliantly unique poets who are changing the literary landscape of the continent.”
Oriogun, who lives and writes in Udi, Eastern Nigeria, has had his poems featured in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Expound, Praxis, among others, and is the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis Magazine Online.
In a recent interview with Brunel, Oriogun said he had entered the prize as a means of sharing his poems because in Africa “there are very few spaces for queer writing”. “Each poem I write is a door into another,” he also told Brunel. “I don’t dwell much on my writing but I’m moved when someone says because of my poems he knows he’s not alone and his feelings are valid. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is living a life of its own and it’s traveling with light into dark places.
”Oriogun was one of four Nigerian poets to reach this year’s shortlist, which included Sahro Ali (Somalia), Leila Chatti (Tunisia), Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia), Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigeria), Yalie Kamara (Sierra Leone), Kechi Nomu (Nigeria), Richard Oduor Oduku (Kenya), Rasaq Malik (Nigeria), and Nick Makoha (Uganda) who co-won the Prize in 2015.
The winner of the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize was Somali-British writer Warsan Shire, whose poetry has since featured on singer Beyoncé Knowles’ album “Lemonade”. Manchester-based indie Flipped Eye Publishing published her first full poetry collection, Extreme Girlhood, last year.