Suicide, sexuality and HIV/AIDS are some of the searing subjects Nigerian, Othuke Umokoro, writes about in his 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize-winning work.
The Port Harcourt based poet and playwright wins the £3,000 prize for his fearless words on family, hope, depression and loss, the judges said. A keen football fan, Othuke studied screenwriting at the University of Ibadan and works for Teach Nigeria, which aims to end educational inequality.
“I am humbled and excited to have won,” he said. This morning I told my students the news and they screamed with joy. It feels so surreal.”
“I believe this award is a door, a door wide and inviting like the ocean. I hope my win draws attention to the extraordinarily bold works of African poets, especially contemporary African poets, crafting their poetry in the continent and beyond.”
Born in the small town of Olomoro, surrounded by rivers, Othuke, 31, recalls a childhood spent fishing and learning to read from his mother.
His haunting poem, A Mountain Cracks Before Translation — mourns the suicide of a brother who had hung himself. The award-winning British-Jamaican poet, Karen McCarthy Woolf, who chaired this year’s Prize, describes Othuke as “A complex poet, with the 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.
“The language is lush, mesmeric and deftly handles the balance between lyric and narrative. These are unafraid, thoughtful pieces — playful, yet serious, making us look at love, life, mortality afresh.”
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 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.