Sunday, February 14, 2016

Safia Elhillo Winner of 2016 Sillerman Prize + Poem

Safia Elhillo (Busboys & Poetry)
The African Poetry Book Fund, in conjunction with the journal Prairie Schooner, has named poet Safia Elhillo the winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, for her manuscript Asmarani! As a winner, Elhillo will receive $1,000 and the University of Nebraska Press will publish her manuscript in 2017. As a member of the judging panel, which also includes the stellar writers Bernardine Evaristo, Matthew Shenoda, Gabeba Baderoon, and Kwame Dawes, who edits Prairie Schooner and directs the APBF, I can say that it was stunning read, and wholeheartedly congratulate Safia Elhillo!

Safia Elhillo, a Sudanese writer "by way of Washington, DC," received her MFA from New School University, and was a joint winner of the 2015 Brunel Poetry Prize. She also is a Fellow of Cave Canem and poetry editor at the journal Kinfolks, and will have a chapbook, also titled Asmarani, appearing as part of the New Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tatu), from the African Poetry Book Fund with Akashic Books.

Congratulations also go to this year's five 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize finalists: Nick Makoha (Uganda), a London resident, for his manuscript Kingdom of Gravity; D. M. Aderibigbe (Nigeria), for his manuscript Becoming My Mother’s Son; Viola Allo, (Cameroon), living in California, for her manuscript Schoolgirl from Cameroon; Shittu Fowora (Nigeria), for his manuscript Touch Machines; and Nebeolisa Okwudili (Nigeria), for his manuscript country!

Here is one of Safia Elhillo's poems, from Big Lucks, Issue 11, December 2015. It gives a sense of her work as a whole, but do check out both the forthcoming chapbook and the entire collection, which will be out next year!


i believe that sometimes              we do not die

i will not believe that to be housed in a body
that is black       is to be dressed always
in black for the funeral                 we live forever

our mouths open & a song falls out           thick
with a saxophone’s syrup               & all our dead
in the ground make this land ours             & all
our missing fathers make us everything’s child

today i did not dress for a funeral       today i wear
the yellow dress        & laugh with all my teeth
today my lost ones are not lost to me     they live
in the wind that gathers my skirt

today this is my country        today i say their names
& the all holes left behind            shaped like blackgirls
& blackboys        are lit up by hundreds of faraway stars

today i woke up & was not dead         & tomorrow
might be different but tomorrow       does not yet exist
so i hold my mother’s hand & kiss          the brown valley
between each knuckle        my brother opens his mouth
to laugh & the light pours in          through the gap in his teeth
& no one will ever again say my eyes are too serious

i press my body to a man that i find beautiful      & sway
to a song that knows us                i live forever
with my feet in my grandmother’s lap
&                                      i live forever by the water
with the sun spilled over me       remember me this way
& when they come for me            play the song i love
into the space i leave behind

Copyright © Safia Elhillo, and Big Lucks, 2016. All rights reserved.

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