Hiwot Adilow, Theresa Lola and Momtaza Mehri named 2018 African Poetry Prize winners

The Brunel International African Poetry Prize has been jointly awarded to three poets for the first time.

Hiwot Adilow (pictured right), Theresa Lola (middle) and Momtaza Mehri have been named the winners, out of more than a thousand entrants.

Now in its sixth year, the prize offers £3,000 aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa.

The judges decided to award the prize to the three poets they deemed the most outstanding, staying with the prize’s purpose of supporting multiple voices from the African continent.

Hiwot Adilow

“Winning the Brunel International African Poetry Prize has been very affirming,” Adilow told Fringe Frequency.

“It comes at a time where I’m thinking a lot about what’s next for my life. I grew up being told to pursue my art on the side and while the realities of surviving through capitalism make this a somewhat reasonable request, being awarded this prize, being recognized in other spaces for my writing, has highlighted for me how necessary it is to craft a life where my creative work is central. No matter what is in the way, I must maintain, as much as possible, a relationship to my art that encourages growth and exploration.”

Aidlow, an Ethiopian-American poet and singer, currently based in Madison, Wisconsin, will release a chapbook, titled In the House of My Father via Two Sylvias Press.

Commenting on her work, the judges said: “Hiwot Adilow’s transgressive poems return to the body as a site for meaning, memory, and reckoning. She has discovered that poetry’s contract with the senses makes it the most suitable vehicle for poems that will speak of the ways in which a woman’s body has to be written with care, boldness and discipline.”

Theresa Lola

Born in Nigerian, and currently based in London, poet Theresa Lola is working on her first poetry collection. An alumna of the Barbican Young Poets programme, she has been shortlisted for poetry awards, won the Hammer and Tongue National Poetry Slam in 2017, and appeared on various BBC Radio programmes.

Commenting on her work, the judges said: “Theresa Lola seeks to articulate the frailties, complications and brutalities inflicted by the body through microscopic imagery that is grotesque and distorted yet surprisingly tender… The poetry is also unflinchingly composed, whether she is portraying a daughter cutting her father’s spine or the ravages of a father’s illness where cancer has kissed death unto his kidneys.”

Momtaza Mehri

Somalian poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri has been featured in publications, such as Dazed, Vogue and Poetry Review. She was winner of the 2017 Outspoken Page Poetry Prize and she took third prize in the National Poetry Competition 2018. She was named Young People’s Laureate of London in 2018.

Commenting on her work, the judges said: “Momtaza Mehri draws on her Muslim and Somali background to write poetry of great topicality and urgency. Her poems are also quietly powerful bullets of searing intelligence and compassion. There are many unforgettable images and imaginative uses of language, and an audaciousness and versatility with form that marks her out as a voice with a bright future ahead of her.”

This year’s judges for the prize included the writers and academics Malika Booker, Kwame Dawes, Diana Evans, Mahtem Shiferraw, and chair and founder, Bernardine Evaristo.

Image: courtesy of Brunel International African Poetry Prize