In 2017, Nigerian poet Romeo Oriogun stunned readers with his complex, urgent poetry full of brimming emotion, stark imagery, and biting questions. In a unanimous vote, this young poet was awarded the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. This prestigious £3,000 major poetry award, sponsored by Brunel University and Commonwealth Writers, is given to poets who have not yet published a full poetry book.
Oriogun, who has only been writing poetry for three years, was shortlisted from over 1,200 entries for the 2017 Prize. He was one of four Nigerian poets on the shortlist. In an April 2017 interview with Nigerian book blogger Geosi Gyasi, Oriogun says he submitted his work for the Prize because he knows there are so few spaces open to gay African writers. His work has previously appeared in literary publications as diverse as Brittle Paper and African Writer. His chapbook, Burnt Men, was electronically published by Praxis Magazine Online in 2016.
Oriogun’s first frame of reference for poetry came from works that were decades old since newer works were harder to find and often more expensive where he grew up Udi, Eastern Nigeria. The poem that first inspired him was Nigerian poet J.P. Clark’s “Streamside Exchange.” He sees poetry as a joy and celebration, even when he tackles difficult, personal topics such as the persecution of gay men in Nigeria and other African countries. Amidst threats of violence from the community, Oriogun proudly identifies as a gay poet and will continue writing from the heart.
Oriogun was announced as the 2017 prize winner on May 2nd. Though the Brunel International African Poetry Prize is a relatively new award, it has already honored many of today’s most illustrious poets. Warsan Shire, whose poetry entered new pop culture heights after being featured on Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, won the first Brunel award in 2013. 2016’s joint winners were Gbenga Adesina and Chekwube O. Danladi, both from Nigeria. According to the Prize’s website, their mission is the “development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa.”
Oriogun lives and works in Udi. With his winnings, he wants to travel to South Africa, Nairobi, and Namibia. He is currently working on his manuscript and is joining with a friend to create a journal in Nigeria that is safe for out writers.