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

I love what Cheswayo Mphanza is doing and asking us to do by centering visual art and film in these two poems. Mphanza is asking us to see what we cannot see as a route to knowing what we cannot know, or to see differently what we think we know. The approach in “Notes Towards a Biography of Henry Tayali”—to start with a painting that the reader cannot see and to move behind it to an image of the life of the artist—is such an exciting poetic take on what biography is. How do we chart life? How remember that everything we perceive is something created out of something we can not see. “Djibril Diop Mambety Scene Description” asks us to get to 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 that causes permeability, allowing these poems to take us so close to the ancestral artists invoked here that we are in their process, we are in their work. We almost become paintings, films, or poems ourselves. But what happens is even better. We, they, all of us remain possible.

Mphanza was born in Lusaka, Zambia, and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His work has been featured in the New England Review, Paris Review, the Hampden-Sydney Review, Lolwe, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Birdfeast, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Hurston/Wright Foundation, Callaloo, Cave Canem, and Columbia University. A finalist for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and a recipient of the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers, his debut collection The Rinehart Frames (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, is forthcoming March 2021. He earned his MFA from Rutgers-Newark.

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

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

  • Diamond Forde
  • Kyoko Uchida
  • Day Heisinger-Nixon
  • Bennet Bergman

As well, there were eight semifinalists:

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

Congratulations to Mphana, as well as all the finalists and semifinalists! We’re grateful for the support of everyone who entered!