James Berry Poetry Prize 2024

James Berry Poetry Prize 2024


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.

Launched in 2021, the James Berry Poetry Prize is Britain’s first and only poetry prize offering both expert mentoring and book publication for young or emerging poets of colour. Its joint organisers are Newcastle University and Bloodaxe Books. There is no submission fee.

The winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize were Kaycee Hill, who was mentored by Malika Booker; Marjorie Lotfi, mentored by Mimi Khalvati; and Yvette Siegert, mentored by Mona Arshi. Kaycee Hill’s debut collection, Hot Sauce, and Marjorie Lotfi’s The Wrong Person to Ask, were launched at the inaugural prizewinners’ event hosted by NCLA (Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts) at Culture Lab in November 2023 (see video below). The debut collection by the third winner, Yvette Siegert, will be published later.

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. There are five judges: Neil Astley, founding editor of Bloodaxe Books; poet Imtiaz Dharker, holder of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and Chancellor of Newcastle University; poet Theresa Muñoz, director of Newcastle Poetry Festival and James Berry Poetry Prize manager; Nathalie Teitler, diversity specialist and director of The Complete Works; and 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 including Freedom City.

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.

The prize is part of an inclusivity project devised for Bloodaxe by Nathalie Teitler with Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo whose own debut poetry book Lara is published by Bloodaxe. The prize is named in honour of James Berry, OBE (1927-2017), 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 numerous 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 who returned the favour by giving him their personal support in his later years. The winners and shortlisted poets will also receive copies of James Berry’s books from Bloodaxe.

Sharing a commitment with Bloodaxe Books to diversify the UK poetry sector, Newcastle University has previously worked with Bloodaxe on other projects relating to the promotion of poets of colour, such as Freedom City in 2017, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr being awarded an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University, including the publication of a celebratory anthology, The Mighty Stream: poems in celebration of Martin Luther King, and 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.

Run in partnership with Newcastle University, the prize is free to enter and open to Black and minority ethnic poets who have not published a book-length collection, with special consideration given to LGBTQ+/disabled poets and poets from underrepresented backgrounds. The prize will be open for submissions until 31st July 2024.

Full details on how to enter can be found here: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/ncla/james-berry-poetry-prize/

Entries opened on 15 April and will close on 31 July 2024.

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.

[15 April 2024]

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