Ms Warsan Shire Reminisces on her African Poetry Award


Ms Warsan ShireSomalilandsun – Somali poet Warsan Shire has won the UK’s Brunel University inaugural prize for African Poetry. The prize is for African poets who have not yet published a full-length poetry collection, and entrants had to submit a total of 10 poems.

There were 655 entries and Ms Shire was chosen from a shortlist of six.

“I’ve never been to Somalia, and I’m Somali. So the poems for me are a way of creating a connection to a country I’ve never been to. I don’t know how it feels to belong, or to be home or anything like that,” the 24 year old told BBC Africa.Listen to Warsan

Ms Shire, who was born in Kenya to Somali parents and now lives in London, gave her reaction to the award.

Her poetry pamphlet, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, was published in 2011 by flipped eye. Her poems have appeared in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt, 2011). They have been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

 Poet Warsan talks to BBCThe judges praised Warsan’s poetry for its combination of substance, urgency, power and drama. Her work was described as, “…beautifully crafted, subtle and understated in its use of language and metaphor yet still able to evoke a strong sense of mood and place that touches the reader.”

The Brunel University African Poetry Prize is a major new prize aimed at the development and celebration of poetry from Africa. It was founded by poet and novelist Bernardine Evaristo, who teaches Creative Writing at Brunel.

Describing her reasons for creating this new prize, she said: “I have judged several prizes in the past few years, including chairing the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2012, an award that has revitalized the fortunes of fiction from Africa since its inception in 1999.

“It became clear to me that poetry from the continent could also do with a prize to draw attention to it and to encourage aTeaching my Mother how to give birth new generation of poets who might one day become an international presence. African poets are rarely published in Britain. I hope this prize will introduce exciting new poets to Britain’s poetry editors.”

The prize is open to poets who were born in Africa, who are nationals of an African country, or whose parents are African, but who have not yet published a full-length poetry collection.

In this first year, entrants were required to submit ten poems. Organisers received 655 entries which were reduced to a shortlist of six. The other shortlisted poets were Peter Akinlabi (Nigeria); Viola Allo (Cameroon); Lena Bezawork Grunland (Ethiopia); Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia) and Chielozona Eze (Nigeria).

The 2013 judges were Sharmilla Beezmohun, Dr Kwame Dawes, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Dr Mpalive Msiska and Bernardine Evaristo (Chair).