Rabha Ashry

Rabha Ashry was announced the winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2020 today, May 4, 2020.

The Brunel International African Poetry Prize was founded in 2012 to revitalise African poetry by Brunel University London Professor of Creative Writing (and Booker Prize winner) Bernardine Evaristo. The prize, worth 3,000 UK pounds to an unpublished African poet, has encouraged a new generation of poets since. Previous winners have been Warsan Shire (2013), Liyou Libsekal (2014), Safia Elhillo & Nick Makoha (2015), Gbenga Adesina & Chekwube O. Danladi (2016), Romeo Oriogun (2017), Momtaza Mehri, Theresa Lola, and Hiwot Adilow (2018), and Nadra Mabrouk and Jamila Osman (2019).

The judges this year were poets and academics Karen McCarthy Woolf (Chair), Kayo Chingonyi, Billy Kahora, Momtaza Mehri and Koleka Putuma. The shortlist of six poets were announced on March 30, 2020. The winner of the prize announced today is Rabha Ashry. Ashry, a New York University Abu Dhabi graduate, recently completed an MFA in Writing at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. She writes about exile, the diaspora, and living between languages. Her work has been published in the Oyez Review, Collected 2018, Airport Road, Electra Street, and Strange Horizons.

The judges praised Ashry’s poetry for reminding us of what can be at stake in a poem. Each twist of phrase and line is weighed carefully achieving a fruitful balance between harmony and dissonance, the mundane and the haunting, the ordinary and extraordinary. She deftly interweaves a range of powerful, and sometimes jarring, images. It feels as if the collection is performing a kind of undoing and unmasking. The poet’s voice subverts the safety of language and imagery, and has you feeling displaced and desperate to be belong – to root, in all the ways that are uncomfortable, challenging and necessary. Deceptively simple, these are poems which echo long after they finish on the page.