Cheswayo Mphanza

Cheswayo Mphanza was announced the winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry 2020 on February 1, 2020.

The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry is awarded annually to an African poet who has not yet published a full collection of poetry. The prize, named after benefactors Laura and Robert F. X. Sillerman, gives prize money of USD $1000 to the winner. They also get their collection published by the University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Press in Senegal. Previous winners of the award have been Clifton Gachagua (2014), Ladan Osman (2015), Mahtem Shiferraw (2016), Safia Elhillo’s (2017), Tjawangwa Dema (2018), and Gbenga Adeoba (2019).

This year’s prize was judged by the African Poetry Book Fund Editorial Board of Kwame Dawes, Chris Abani, Matthew Shenoda, John Keene, Aracelis Girmay, Gabeba Baderoon, and Bernardine Evaristo. This panel of judges announced the finalists of this year’s prize as;

  • Cheswayo Mphanza (Zambia) for his manuscript The Rinehart Frames.
  • Hazem Fahmy (Egypt/US) for the manuscript Id.
  • O-Jeremiah Agbaakin (Nigeria) for the manuscript The Root of the Word Babble is Babel.
  • El Habib Louai (Morocco) for the manuscript Rotten Wounds Embalmed with Tar.

The winner of this year’s edition of the prize from these finalists is Lusaka-born, Chicago USA-raised Cheswayo Mphanza. His work has appeared in the New England Review, New Orleans Review, American Literary Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Callaloo, Columbia University, and Cave Canem. A finalist for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2018 and a recipient of the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers, he earned his MFA from Rutgers-Newark. The Rinehart Frames will be published by the University of Nebraska Press.