Romeo Oriogun from Nigeria has been named winner of the 2017Brunel International African Poetry Prize for his “beautiful and deeply passionate” writing on masculinity and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution.
Now in its fifth year, the £3,000 major poetry prize is aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa. It is open to African poets worldwide who have not yet published a full poetry collection.
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.
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 Eastern Nigeria. 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.
In a recent interview, 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” and 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.
“Each poem I write is a door into another, 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); andNick Makoha (Uganda).
The judges this year were the poets and academics: 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).
©2017 2edged Pen