Shock-prise as younger poets rule shortlist of $100.000 Nigeria Prize for Literature

Romeo Oriogun

Akeem Lasisi

The shortlist of the Nigeria Prize for Literature is out and it bears some elements of surprise and shock. It is a trait a clever Englisher may coin as shock-prise as the three making it to the final round are S. Su’eddie Vershima Agema, with his collection, Memory of the Call of Waters; Romeo Oriogun; Nomads; and Saddiq Dzukogi, Your Crib, My Qibla. The trio are comparatively younger than some others on the longlist of 11, not just in age but also in volumes of works they have produced. The outcome may thus have beaten the calculation of some followers of the prize.

Among the ‘giants’ (age-wise and experience-wise) on the longlist are Remi Raji, Ogaga Ifowodo, Segun Adekoya and Obari Gomba.
But the judges’ decision should still not surprise – let alone shock – those who have closely followed the prize established as far back as 2004 by the Nigeria LNG, which has been outstandingly committed to the project. Apart from the fact that it has consistently sponsored it, it has never been known to interfere in the decisions of the judges as well as the Advisory Board. This has, as a result, boosted the confidence of many in the prize.

The panel of judges include Sule Emmanuel Egya, who is the Chairman of the panel and a professor of African Literature and Cultural Studies at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State. Other judges are Toyin Adewale-Gabriel and Dike Chukwumerije. Adewale-Gabriel is a poet and fiction writer. Dike Chukwumerije is a spoken word and performance poet, and an award-winning author.

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Dzukogi

Folks might not be too surprised by the shortlist because the competition is about each particular entry, not about the history of any writer. Besides, there have been years younger writers emerged when far older hands were also on the long or short lists. Some of the relatively young past winners are Chika Inigwe, Tade Ipadeola, Kaine Agary, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Soji Cole.
Most importantly, the literary community and other stakeholders will be looking forward to the final statement by the judges, which is expected in October when the winner will be announced – hoping that there will not be a situation none of the three surviving collections will be found not up to the expected standard. It has happened before. May it not happen again.

Synopsis of the shortlisted works

Memory and the Call of Waters (S. Su’eddie Vershima Agema; Sevhage Kikya; 2021)
Synopsis: The collection interrogates personal and collective memory juxtaposed with current realities woven into diverse facets from love, family, culture, politics, and depression, to survival, hope and redemption. Written in mixed styles, it is an unpretentious collection that will remain with readers long after its last page is read.
Profile: Multiple award-winning writer, development worker, cultural enthusiast and editor, Agema blogs at http://sueddie.wordpress.com and is @sueddieagema on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.

S. Su’eddie Agema

Nomad (Romeo Oriogun; Griots Lounge Publishing; 2021)
Synopsis: Romeo Oriogun’s poetry explores alterity and displacements-of location, of intimate physical spaces, of colour/race, the remnant music of Caliban. He does this with a deft hand and an instinctive feel for the cadences of the lyric.
Profile: Author of Sacrament of Bodies, which was a finalist for the Lambda Award for Gay Poetry, Oriogun has received fellowships and support from Ebedi International Writers Residency, Harvard University, Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research, Oregon Institute for Creative Research, and the HE-Artist Protection Fund. Winner of the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and an alumnus of the lowa Writers’ Workshop, he currently lives in Ames where he is a postdoctoral Research Associate at lowa State University.

Your Crib, My Qibla (Saddiq Dzukogi; University of Nebraska Press; 2021)
Synopsis: Shortlisted for the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry shortlist, the collection interrogates loss, the death of a child, and a father’s pursuit of language able to articulate grief. In these poems, the language of memory functions as a space of mourning, connecting the dead with the world of the living. Culminating in an imagined dialogue between the father and his deceased daughter in the intricate space of the family, Your Crib, My Qibla explores grief, the fleeting nature of healing, and the constant obsession of memory as a language to reach the dead.
Profile: A 2017 finalist of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, he is the author of Inside the Flower Room, selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the New Generation African Poets Chapbook series. Dzukogi’s poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, Prairie Scooner, Gulf Coast, World Literature Today, New Orleans Review, Oxford Poetry, African American Review, Best American Experimental Writing, and elsewhere. He holds a degree in mass communication from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, and is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S.