Poetry contest

Announcing the Winner and Finalists of the 2020 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest

Congratulations to Cheswayo Mphanza, who was selected by Judge Alexis Pauline Gumbs as the winner of the 2020 contest Boston review Annual Poetry Contest! Of Mphanza’s winning poems, “Notes to a Biography of Henry Tayali” and “Description of the Scene by Djibril Diop Mambety”, Gumbs writes:

I like what Cheswayo Mphanza does and asks us to do by centering visual art and film in these two poems. Mphanza asks us to see what we cannot see as a way to know what we cannot know, or to see differently what we think we know. The approach in ‘Notes to a Biography of Henry Tayali’ – beginning with a painting the reader cannot see and moving behind an image from the artist’s life – is such a passionate poetic interpretation of what is the biography. How do we trace life? How to remember that everything we perceive is something created from something we can’t see. “Djibril Diop Mambety Scene Description” asks us to address the poetics behind and beyond what we see in filmic representation, but also how we envision nation, change, intimacy and love. Mphanza offers poetry as an agent of permeability, allowing these poems to take us so close to the ancestral artists invoked here that we are in their approach, we are in their work. We almost become paintings, films or poems ourselves. But what is happening is even better. We, them, we all remain possible.

Mphanza was born in Lusaka, Zambia and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His work has been featured in the New England Review, Paris reviewthe Hampden-Sydney Review, Lowe, Hayden’s Ferry Review, bird party, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Hurston/Wright Foundation, Callaloo, Cave Canem, and Columbia University. Finalist of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and recipient of the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers 2017, his first collection Rinehart frames (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, will be published in March 2021. He earned his MFA from Rutgers-Newark.

Mphanza’s poems will appear in our special winter art issue, Ancestors. To be among the first to read it, order a copy! For a limited time, use code ‘ARTS20’ at checkout to get 20% off and free nationwide shipping.

Gumbs also selected four finalists whose work will appear in Ancestors as well:

  • Forded Diamond
  • Kyoko Uchida
  • Heisinger–Nixon Day
  • Bennett Bergman

Additionally, there were eight semi-finalists:

  • Naro Alonzo
  • Fatima Banana
  • Jesse Bertron
  • Alicia Christoff
  • Benjamin Goldberg
  • Vuyelwa Maluleke
  • Funto Omojola
  • Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes

Congratulations to Mphana, and to all the finalists and semi-finalists! We are grateful for the support of everyone who participated!