Egypt’s Nadra Mabrouk joins Somalia’s Jamila Osman today as joint winners of the attention-grabbing Brunel International African Poetry Prize. (main picture Jamila Osman)
Nadra, from Cairo, who interns for The Academy of American Poets, and Jamila, who writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon, will both share the £3,000 prize.
Aimed at putting poetry from Africa on the stage internationally, the major prize is for African poets worldwide who are yet to publish a full collection.
Previous winners include Warsan Shire, from Somalia, who later worked with Beyoncé on her album Lemonade, and Nigeria’s Romeo Oriogun now a Fellow at Harvard University.
“It is such an honour to win this prize, as it celebrates the heritage and family that continue to hum in my bones,” Nadra said.
“I have been writing about my childhood memories in Cairo since my teenage years, trying to make sense of the growing chasm within me. I yearn to reach those who share my experiences and those who don’t, alike. I yearn for wholeness in my African, Arab and now American identity, while celebrating the brokenness and disconnect, the same.”
Judges Matthew Shenoda, Leila Chatti and Phillippa Yaa de Villers said in Jamila’s poetry, ‘cadence and craft come together like the fine edge of a knife’.
“Osman’s detailed view of memory both personal and collective create a space for poems that are dipped in diasporic ink and carry a trajectory forever rooted in her home country of Somalia.” The poets and academics added: “Jamila Osman is a poet of allegorical beauty and someone for whom we should all be delighted to read more of in the future.”
Praising Nadra’s work, the panel said: “lines fold into lines and teach us the alchemy of presence and history. Mabrouk’s ability to make music in celebration of the pure joys of language is a restorative salve in contemporary poetry. Hers is a voice that will pull the reader into and outside of themselves.”
When she started the prize in 2012, African poetry was almost invisible on the international literary landscape, said founder Prof Bernardine Evaristo.
“Today there are legions of poets out there successfully building careers and being heard,” said the award-winning British-Nigerian writer based at Brunel University London.
“It demonstrates the power of schemes such as mine, the African Poetry Book Fund’s many projects, and other initiatives, to revolutionise the literature of an entire continent. The future looks very bright and African poetry is a global force staking its claim.”