In 2008, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, Ugandan poet and author, founded the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, which was a unique platform to promote poetry amongst Ugandan women and motivate them to excel further in poetry, through this annual poetry prize. The initial target was Ugandan women and for five years, it was the only poetry prize in the world, coordinating a poetry award for Ugandan women. You see, Uganda at the time was filled with closet poets, those who wrote and wove beautiful words together but just crumpled them under their pillows, fearful of gazing eyes. Many writers start with fear and apprehension and this does not stop even after becoming more established. We fear criticism, we doubt ourselves and we wonder if we’ll ever have a market for our work. The BN Poetry Award set out to change that. In 2008, the significant poetry groups at the time that could significantly be remembered were Wagadugu poetry nights and a few at Femrite and National Theater. From 2009, more groups opened in Uganda like Lantern Meet, Poetry in session and later Open Mic Uganda. Then in 2008, poets were hardly motivated, confined to ridicule and self-doubt, hardly worth a shilling and more often , encouraged themselves that if they combined as prose writers, life would become better.
The first award submissions were sent in November 2008 and in early 2009, we closed the submissions, which were 60 in total. Hilda Twongyeirwe, coordinator of Femrite, Iga Zinunula, poet and entrepreneur and Beverley Nambozo were the judges. Dr. Susan Kiguli, poet and academic, made the final selection. It was a unanimous vote and our very first winner Lillian Aujo, emerged best overall for her poem, Soft Tonight. Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s first female Speaker of Parliament, the guest of honour graced the occasion and handed Lillian her prize of 250 Us Dollars. The second in 2009 was Catherine Kemigisha for Better at Dawn and in third place was Sophie Alal for The Rebel Fell. To imagine that a humble dream, insignificant quest to promote poetry could attract an entire Speaker of Parliament. It was unbelievable. Beverley is extremely grateful for those that sowed the first seed. Now, with a strategic team in place, a board, a professional panel of judges, publications to our name, invitations to the most famous literary festivals in the world and many loyal friends, the journey has been worthwhile.
In 2013, after five extremely successful years, the secretariat decided it was time for a step of firm and to affirm that, in 2014, the award extended its branch to included all African poets, female and male. The name also changed from Beverley Nambozo to Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, where we coordinate the annual African poetry prize, publish poetry anthologies, conduct poetry camps and mentorships and organise poetry festivals. In 2014, the first African poetry prize went to Kenyan Tom Jalio for the poem, There was once something special here. He won 1,000 USD and a trip to Storymoja Festival in Nairobi. From 2012, we have not only given cash prizes worth 1,000 USD and more,we also sponsor a fully paid trip to Storymoja Festival in Nairobi where the winners participate in mentorship programs, Master classes and performances. The Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation has awarded 25 poets with cash prizes, books, poetry festival participation, master class and mentorships, publications and validated them in poetry. There have been lots of significant changes.
Tom Jalio says: “My confidence in poetry has grown and the BN Poetry Foundation has set a new standard for poetry in africa.
Dorothie Ayebazibwe, second winner 2014: This week of experience with the BN Poetry Foundation and Storymoja has been the best in my life.
Lillian Aujo: winner in 2009: A Thousand Voices Rising is the best anthology of poetry I have read in my life.
This is Africa: A Thousand Voices Rising is an anthology more diverse than diversity. (It was voted amongst the top 100 books of 2010 to 2014)
Rebecca Kadaga: Speaker of Parliament: The BN Poetry Award should become a national event on Uganda’s calendar.
A Society immersed in poetry
Creating African leaders through poetry
- To promote African poetry and target tens of thousands of African poets annually through the BN poetry award
- To publish African poetry annually, either in anthologies, on media or audio-visually
- Advocate the reading and writing of poetry in schools in various African countries, through outreaches every year
- Train at least a hundred young African poets annually, using the Poetricks model
- Create residential poetry camps for at least twenty African poets annually, in different African countries
The BN Poetry Foundation has grown in leaps and bounds since its inception in 2008. For 5 years, we were the only poetry award dedicated to Ugandan women. From 2014, we have extended the award to the entire continent and included men too. This decision was based on the signs of growth and spurts of need to be more inclusive. With more competitiveness, the quality of poems submitted also improved greatly and we awarded a sum of One Thousand (1,000 US Dollars) to the winner. The top ten attended various festivals namely The Storymoja Literary Festival in Nairobi, The BN Poetry Festival in Kampala and the Aké Arts and
Book Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria. All long-listed poets of the BN Poetry Award of 2014 and 2015 will appear in a forth-coming anthology.
A few major achievements include:-
- Currently the only organisation coordinating annual African poetry competitions, whose secretariat is based on the continent
- Publication of the African contemporary poetry anthology, A Thousand Voices Rising, which was voted amongst the top 100 books of 2010 to 2014, in a survey conducted by This Is Africa
- Coordinating the first Poetry Library in Uganda, an initiative of the African Poetry Book Fund
- Establishing the first collaboration of Ugandan poets to the Storymoja Literary Festival in Nairobi
- Major media publicity including interviews in the leading dailies of East Africa, BBC 3 Radio Verb literary programme, PBS NewsHour on NPR (U.S.A) and others
- Development of PoeTRicks, a toolkit for children who read and write poetry, unveiling many paths to identifying key elements in poetry
- Targeting Tens of Thousands of African poets directly, through The BN Poetry Award