Kweku Abimbola

Kweku Abimbola’s manuscript Saltwater Demands a Psalm is the winner of the Academy of American Poets First Book Award 2022. The announcement was made on Monday, March 28, 2022.

The Academy of American Poets First Book Award is a first-book publication prize. The winning manuscript, chosen by an acclaimed poet, is published by Graywolf Press, an award-winning independent publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of contemporary American and international literature. It was established in 1975 to encourage the work of emerging poets and to enable the publication of a poet’s first book. Previous winners include Kemi Alabi, Threa Almontaser, and Judy Jordan.

The winner for 2022 was selected by Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio (Wave Books, 2016), winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and leadbelly (Wave Books, 2005), winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. He selected the manuscript Saltwater Demands a Psalm by Abimbola.

Jess said: “In an era of sloganeering and solipsism, Saltwater Demands a Psalm is a healing, a diasporic divination, an elegy of ancestral elegance. Kweku Abimbola beseeches us: Do you want this / name? / Do you want this name / which is only a prayer? and hymns us a portrait of fully realized Black humanity to counter the bullet riddled headlines and internet memes. Here is a poet with enough heart to Sankofa across oceans, fasten his durag, and libate the page with Adinkra insight. Dear reader, be wise: fix your mind to wonder, lift this tome to your dome and Drink! Drink! Drink!

Born in The Gambia, Kweku Abimbola earned his MFA in Poetry Writing from the  University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He is of Gambian, Ghanaian, and Sierra Leonean descent. He is a finalist for the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, the second-place winner of Furious Flower’s 2020 poetry contest, and has work published and forthcoming in Shade Literary Arts, 20.35 Africa, The Common, Obsidian, Sunu Journal, and elsewhere.

Commenting on his win Abimbola said on Twitter, “I’m at a loss for words🥺🥺. Thank you to the countless writing communities that made this possible, especially my @umichWriters fam! I’m so humbled by this honor, and cannot wait for what’s to come🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽”

Apart from the $5,000 cash prize, he receives an all-expenses-paid, six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center, a 15th-century castle in the Umbrian region of Italy, to join a cohort of accomplished international artists, writers, and composers; distribution of his winning book to thousands of Academy of American Poets members, making it one of the most widely-distributed poetry books that year; inclusion and promotion in American Poets magazine, the Academy’s newsletter, and, among other opportunities.