Tawanda Mulalu Wins the 2023 Luchei Prize for African Poetry

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The winning manuscript for African Poetry Book Fund’s 2023 Luschei Prize for African Poetry has been announced and it is Tawanda Mulalu’s debut collection, Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die: Poems. The Botswanan poet will receive $1,000 and a book publication deal.

This year’s prize was judged by author John Keene who had the following to say: “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.”

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

Asides Tawanda’s winning manuscript, John Keene also chose five finalists. They are as follows: 

  • 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)
  • Star Reverse by Linda Ann Strang (Dryad Press)

Tawanda Mulalu’s book, Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die had previously been selected by Susan Stewart for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. The book is also listed as a best poetry book of 2022 by the trio of The Boston Globe, The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Botswanan poet has work featured in journals around the world, including in Brittle PaperLana Turner, LolweThe New England ReviewThe Paris Review, and A Public Space. He is a fellow at The Michener Center for Writers and was a contest judge for the 2023 Poetry Society of America annual awards.

Congratulations, Tawanda!