Mulalu named 2023 winner of Luschei Prize for African Poetry

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Mulalu named 2023 winner of Luschei Prize for African Poetry

Tawanda Mulalu
Courtesy | Joaquin Sosa
Tawanda Mulalu

Botswanan poet Tawanda Mulalu is the winner of the African Poetry Book Fund’s 2023 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, for his debut collection, “Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die: Poems.”

Author John Keene judged this year’s prize, which annually awards $1,000 to a book of poetry by an African writer published in the previous year.

Of the collection, Keene wrote: “How to put into words the unsettling beauty and strangeness of Tawanda Mulalu’s ‘Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die’? As if in lucid dreams, these poems’ speakers — teachers, students, thinkers, readers, lovers, sons — explore their contemporary reality as diasporic Black Africans in White spaces throughout America, utilizing deadpan irony, rhetoric, humor, pathos, a great deal of literary and musical reference, and a range of poetic forms (songs, elegies, prayers, film studies, arias, near-sestinas, and more) Mulalu has invented or remade. Mulalu, originally from Gaborone, Botswana, does so in part with the aim of a world-making that, even when in conversation with prior poets and poems, when tackling personal issues such his isolation and exile or public events such as the police murder of Philando Castile, or when riffing on Shakespeare or Pokémon, feels distinctly his own. A sparkling debut, Tawanda Mulalu’s Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die marks a distinctive and galvanizing new talent and portends much original poetry to come.”

Mulalu was born and raised in Botswana. His first book was selected by Susan Stewart for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and is listed as a best poetry book of 2022 by the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Tawanda’s poems have appeared in Brittle Paper, Lana Turner, Lolwe, The New England Review, The Paris Review, A Public Space, and elsewhere. He is presently a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers and served as a judge for the 2023 Poetry Society of America annual awards.

“Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die: Poems” is part of the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. It is available for purchase online from Princeton University Press and bookstores that carry Princeton University Press poetry titles.

In addition to the winning book, Keene chose five finalists: “Soliloquy with the Ghosts in Nile” by Hussain Ahmed (Black Ocean); “Dark Horse” by Michele Betty (Dryad Press); “Call Me Exile” by Aaron Brown (Steven F. Austin State University Press); “Broken Halves of a Milky Sun” by Aaiún Nin (Astra Publishing House); and “Star Reverse” by Linda Ann Strang (Dryad Press).

The Luschei Prize for African Poetry, funded by literary philanthropist and poet Glenna Luschei and the only pan-African book prize of its kind, promotes African poetry written in English or in translation by recognizing a significant book published each year by an African poet.

The 2024 Luschei Prize for African Poetry will open to submissions of books by African poets published during 2023 on May 1.

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