Tawanda Mulalu

Tawanda Mulalu is Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry 2023 winner.

Tawanda Mulalu’s poetry collection Please Make Me Pretty, I Don’t Want to Die: Poems was named the winner of the African Poetry Book Fund’s Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry 2023 on Thursday, March 28, 2024.

The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry is named for poet, publisher, editor, businesswoman, and philanthropist, Glenna Luschei. Administered by the African Poetry Book Fund, it is awarded annually to a book published in the previous calendar year by an African poet. Some previous winners of the prize founded in 2015 have been Togara Muzanenhamo, Maneo Refiloe Mohale, Mangaliso Buzani, Koleka Putuma, Juliane Okot Bitek, Rethabile Masilo, and Kobus Moolman.

The judge for the 2023 edition of the award writer, translator, professor, and artist who was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2018 John Keene. From the submitted entries, he selected the following finalists;

  • Soliloquy with the Ghosts in Nile, Hussain Ahmed (Black Ocean),
  • Please Make Me Pretty, I Don’t Want to Die: Poems, Tawanda Mulalu (Princeton University Press)
  • Dark Horse, Michele Betty (Dryad Press)
  • Call Me Exile, Aaron Brown (Steven F. Austin State University Press)
  • Broken Halves of a Milky Sun, Aaiún Nin (Astra Publishing House)
  • Star Reverse, Linda Ann Strang (Dryad Press).

From these finalists also revealed on Thursday, John Keene named Please Make Me Pretty, I Don’t Want to Die: Poems by Tawanda Mulalu as the winner.

Commenting on the collection Keene said, “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 tweeted the following response, “Love our people, love our Continent, love our poetry. Thank you so much @AfricanPoetryBF. (and of course, as ever, as always, endless thanks to @PrincetonUPress and @jodiprice_ and team!)”

The Botswana-born poet whose collection has been called best poetry book of 2022 by The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and The Washington Post receives the US$1,000 cash prize.

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