James Berry Poetry Prize Winners' Reading

James Berry Poetry Prize Winners' Reading


The James Berry Poetry Prize is the UK’s first poetry prize offering both expert mentoring and book publication for young or emerging poets of colour. Organised by NCLA with Bloodaxe Books, and supported by special funding from Arts Council England, the prize was launched in April 2021.  Marjorie Lotfi and Kaycee Hill were announced as joint winners of the inaugural prize in October 2021, along with Yvette Siegert, whose debut will be published by Bloodaxe Books in 2025.

Marjorie Lotfi and Kaycee Hill read from their winning debut collections, both published by Bloodaxe in October 2023, at a special event held on 9 November 2023 at Newcastle University, hosted by Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley and poet and director of the Newcastle Poetry Festival Theresa Muñoz.  The readings were followed by a Q&A with Neil, Theresa and the audience asking questions.  A video of the event is available below. 

Marjorie Lotfi’s first full collection The Wrong Person to Ask is a book of two halves, each a meditation on the idea of home, both the places we start and end up in our lives. Spanning a childhood in Iran dislocated by revolution, through years as a young woman in America, to her current home in Scotland, these poems ask what it means to come from somewhere else, what we carry with us when we leave, and how we land in a new place and finally come to rest. The Wrong Person to Ask is a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation for Winter 2023.

Hot Sauce is a searing first collection that captures the visceral vulnerabilities of navigating life on the cusp.  Kaycee Hill frankly explores coming of age as a woman – and the intricacies of connection and memory – against an urban-pastoral landscape.

The second James Berry Poetry Prize is open for submissions from 15 April to 31 July 2024. 
Full details on how to enter can be found on Newcastle University's website here.

The three equal winners of the second James Berry Poetry Prize will each receive year-long mentoring during 2024-25 plus £1000 and publication of their debut book length collections with Bloodaxe in 2026. Theresa Muñoz and Neil Astley will be joined as judges in 2024 by diversity specialist Nathalie Teitler; by poet Imtiaz Dharker, holder of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and Chancellor of Newcastle University; and by poet and professor Major Jackson, who holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University in the US and has worked with Newcastle University on previous projects.  The 2024 winning poets will be mentored by poets Patience Agbabi, Karen McCarthy Woolf, and Jacob Sam-La Rose, one of the judges of the 2021 inaugural prize. 



Kaycee Hill is a poet, creative and professional writing graduate, and digital mixed media artist. Now based near Bristol, she was born in Winchester and grew up in a working-class, mixed-heritage household – British and Caribbean – in Andover. She was selected for Poetry Ambassadors during the height of the pandemic, was a shortlisted poet for the Poetry London Mentoring Scheme 2020, and has been commended for her poetry by The Young Poets Network. Kaycee spent the past five years working within the healthcare sector as a domiciliary carer and as a support worker for adults with mild learning difficulties. She believes it is a role wherein you learn everything there is to know about humanity. Kaycee defines herself as an urban voyeur, with much of her urge to write taken from the spry mundanity of inner-city life. She was one of the three winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize in 2021, and her first book-length collection, Hot Sauce, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2023.

Marjorie Lotfi was born in New Orleans, moved to Tehran as a baby with her American mother and Persian father, and fled Iran with one suitcase and an hour's notice during the Iranian Revolution. After waiting with family for her father's return in her mother's tiny hometown in Ohio, she lived in different parts of the US before moving to New York as a young lawyer in 1996 and then back and forth to the UK, settling in the UK in 1999, and in Scotland in 2005. She now lives in Edinburgh. Her pamphlet Refuge, poems about her childhood in revolutionary Iran, was published by Tapsalteerie Press in 2018. She was one of the three winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize in 2021, and her first book-length collection, The Wrong Person to Ask (Bloodaxe Books, 2023) is a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. She has been the Poet in Residence at Jupiter Artland, Spring Fling and the Wigtown Book Festival. Marjorie also founded the Belonging Project, considering the experiences of refugees with over 1,500 participants across Scotland, and is a Co-Founder and Director of the charity Open Book. She is an Ignite Fellow with the Scottish Book Trust, one of the 12 Collective of women writers, co-editor of New Writing Scotland, and chair of the board of StAnza, Scotland's International Poetry Festival.

Yvette Siegert is a poet, translator, and critic. She is the author of Atmospheric Ghost Lights, selected by Monica Youn for the 2021 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship Award. Her work has received support from CantoMundo, Ledbury Poetry Critics, Macondo, Bread Loaf, Arts Council England, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Visible Communities programme at the National Centre for Writing. Her translation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s late work, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962–1972 (New Directions, 2016), won the Best Translated Book Award. She lives in Birmingham, and is currently reading for a doctorate in Spanish American literature at Merton College, Oxford. She was one of the three winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize in 2021, and her first book-length collection is published by Bloodaxe Books at a later date.

More about the three winning poets in The Bookseller here.


The winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize were announced at an online event on 28 October 2021. They were Kaycee Hill, Marjorie Lotfi and Yvette Siegert.

The James Berry Poetry Prize was launched in April 2021 and open for four months, attracting nearly a hundred submissions. The three equal winners each received year-long mentoring during 2021-22 plus £1,000 and publication of their debut book-length collections with Bloodaxe in 2023 and 2025.

On hearing the news of her win from the organisers ahead of the event, poet Yvette Siegert sent a personal thank-you to Newcastle:

“Shortly after my husband and I arrived in the UK, we attended a reading at the Lit & Phil, and I couldn't believe a place like this existed. That weekend visit to Newcastle was the first time that I began to feel “at home” in England – the fog and the books and the light: I've never experienced that feeling anywhere else – so it seems especially fitting that the prize should be tied to the poetry community of this city. I wish circumstances permitted me to meet you and the other judges in person to express how grateful I am to NCLA and Bloodaxe – for creating this prize, for reading our work. This opportunity is life-changing. Thank you.”

Marjorie Lotfi said: 

“I still can't quite believe that I've jointly won this prize! As someone who spends her days helping others to write and develop their work, I'm just thrilled to have the chance of poetry mentorship – someone to help me consider and shape my own first book-length collection. I'm particularly excited to dive back into poems exploring the meaning of home and belonging, subjects so many of us grapple with. And who wouldn’t be absolutely over the moon at the prospect of being published by Bloodaxe?”

And Kaycee Hill, the youngest of the three winners, said: 

‘Winning the James Berry is a huge feat and an honour. When I graduated last year we were at the height of lockdown and any opportunities I had hoped for had been completely stoppered – as an emerging voice I was desperate to be heard, and winning the James Berry prize is testament to that. I feel so lucky to be involved in such a wonderful grassroots prize that will change my life completely, this is such a monumental moment for me.”

The other poets on the shortlist of seven were Dzifa Benson, Asmaa Jama, Minying Huang and Kim Squirrell.

The 2021 prize was judged by Neil Astley, Sinéad Morrissey, Theresa Muñoz, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Nathalie Teitler.

The mentors for the winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize were Mona Arshi (Yvette Siegert), Malika Booker (Kaycee Hill) and Mimi Khalvati (Marjorie Lotfi). The prize is part of an inclusivity project devised for Bloodaxe by Nathalie Teitler with Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo whose own debut poetry collection Lara is published by Bloodaxe. The prize is named in honour of James Berry, OBE (1924-2017), one of the first Black writers in Britain to receive wider recognition. He emigrated from Jamaica in 1948, and took a job with British Telecom, where he spent much of his working life until he was able to support himself from his writing. He rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition.

James Berry's many books included two seminal anthologies of Caribbean-British poetry, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (Chatto & Windus, 1981), and A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), drawing on five earlier collections including Windrush Songs (2007), published to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. James also inspired and helped younger poets who came after him, most notably Raymond Antrobus and Hannah Lowe – both shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2021 – who returned the favour by giving him their personal support in his later years.  The winners and shortlisted poets received copies of James Berry’s books from Bloodaxe.

NCLA has already worked with Bloodaxe on other projects relating to the promotion of previously underrepresented writers, such as Freedom City 2017, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. being awarded an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University. Part of this included the publication of a celebratory anthology, The Mighty Stream: Poems in Celebration of Martin Luther King. The partnership has also led to Out of Bounds: a national project promoting the work of poets of colour based around on another anthology co-published by Newcastle University with Bloodaxe.

The James Berry Poetry Prize builds on the legacy of the ten-year Complete Works mentoring scheme founded by Bernardine Evaristo and managed by Nathalie Teitler with funding from Arts Council England. The Complete Works scheme was devised to redress the low proportion of publications by poets of colour in the UK identified in the Arts Council’s Free Verse report (2005) on diversity in British poetry publishing which Bernardine Evaristo herself initiated. A new anthology featuring the work of all 30 poets, Mapping the Future: The Complete Works Poets, edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Nathalie Teitler, was published by Bloodaxe Books in October 2023.

NCLA received special funding from Arts Council England to run the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize as a pilot project in partnership with Bloodaxe Books. The 2024 James Berry Poetry Prize is supported by an uplift in Bloodaxe’s Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation funding for 2023-26 designated for inclusivity projects.

The prize is free to enter and open to poets of colour resident in the UK who have not published a book-length collection, with special consideration given to LGBTQ+/disabled poets and poets from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

[01 November 2023]

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