Police brutality and the death of schoolboy Damilola Taylor are among the unflinching themes tackled by contenders for 2021’s Brunel International African Poetry Prize.

The world’s biggest cash prize for African poetry is sponsored by Brunel University London to develop, highlight and inspire emerging African writers.

More than 1,000 people from the continent and its diaspora each submitted a collection of 10 poems to enter the £3000 competition, now in its 8th year.

Shortlisted this year are Kweku Abimbola from Gambia, Uganda’s Arao AmenyIsabelle Baafi from South Africa, Somalia’s Asmaa JamaTumello Motabola from Lesotho and Oluwadare PopoolaYomi Sode and Othuke Umukoro in Nigeria.

“This year’s shortlist share diverse concerns,” said Karen McCarthy Woolf leading the judging panel. “From Yomi Sode’s memorial to Damilola Taylor to Kweku Abimbola’s meditation on Ashanti naming traditions that also commemorates victims of police brutality.

“Their poems express a sense of urgency and a spirit of witness leavened by a capacity to address complex scenarios amongst the political wreckage that has characterised this specific moment in the early 21st century,” said the award-winning British Jamaican poet.

“We find them now, on the brink of what promises to be notable and enduring literary careers.”

South African poets Rustum Kozain and Makhosazana Xaba form the rest of the panel.

“The future looks very bright and African poetry is staking its claim as a major force in world literature,” said competition founder, Professor Bernardine Evaristo, the 2019 Booker Prize winner who teaches creative writing at Brunel University London. 

The winner is announced on May 11th.

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