- Written By Mahlatse Mokgope
10 Contemporary Published African Poets
Poetry, in its multitude of variations, is intricate to African storytelling. These African poets have chosen to utilise written and spoken word to explore the complexities of the human existence. Ranging from explorations of actualisation, identity, healing, displacement, culture, love and many other themes contributing to this sonder life. The list consists of contemporary African poets breaking barriers to produce some of the best poetry of the times. Their words/work can be best described as vehicles of expression transcending normative rigid rules of poetry.
10. Ijeoma Umebinyuo
She Did That
“Do not forget your lineage, do not shrink. do not bend yourself, do not shift your tongue for anyone. whenever you forget who you are, remember the history you have inherited. now, speak.”
Nigerain poet, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, recalls her dance with writing poetry to have began at age ten, the same age she fell in love with storytelling. A Nominee of The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature her poetry speaks to the multitudes of African, Black and Women with marginalised ethnicities to ferociously step into their power, break taught silences while healing in the process. Black people universally can see themselves reflected in her poetry that ranges from centring pain, healing, migration, self and everything outside these margins.
In … she published her debut collection: Questions For Ada, a phenomenon that has received international acclaim and has been translated into various languages. Her adamance on encouraging women to cut the cord with silence that strangles their essence is reflected in her Tedx Talk titled: Dismantling The Culture of Silence. She has been hinting on her Instagram about fulfilling a promise she made to write a book on the Nigerian-Biafran, something we are eagerly keeping an eye out for.
9. Upile Chisala
“I see you. You’re not on this perpetual mission to destroy anymore. I’m glad you finally think you’re worth saving.”
Upile Chisala is a Malawian lush poet with an education in Sociology who completed her postgraduate studies at the esteemed Oxford University. With three poetry collections under her belt namely: A Fire Like You, Soft Magic, Nectar, it is no wonder that Upile’s poetry is a sensation widely received and shared often on social media. Her poems affirm like no other as they pierce through to one’s conscience as poetry tends to do. There is a beautiful simplicity in her writing style that appeals to vast audiences. [Simple language, sophisticated poems].
8. Bokang Maragelo
“Mother, am I dancing in your shoes?
Am I running around in circles
Looking for father’s foot steps
By running after everything
That walks away from me?
Mother, did they really ever love us?”
Bokang is a twitter sensation however his impact and poetic abilities are certainly not limited to the platform. The savvy South African poet has self-published three collections: A Beautiful Sunday, Things The Fire Left Behind and his most recent addition promptly titled HEY. Self-publishing requires an admirable level of confidence in one’s gift, which Bokang certainly does not lack as he has also used this knowledge to assist other writers get their work published.
His poetry is a catalyst for introspection into one’s experiences and traumas that have shaped the present. An underlying melancholy nostalgia, Bokang’s poems open wide the lid wide open into cover scars long covered. It would be another injustice on the poet to not mention that there are some ‘happy poems’ somewhere in there.
7. Koleka Putuma
Leading Ladies Africa
“THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOD
All your traumas kneel and call you Saviour.”
Koleka’s work is a masterpiece predominantly serving a socio-political purpose. Her poetry anthology titled ‘Collective Amnesia’ challenges South Africa’s historical positionality in the present like a mirror reflecting a past that still needs to be addressed. In her collection, she incites necessary dialogue into the legacy of Nelson Mandela, ideas of home, gender-based violence, Queerness, race and religion as imminent themes.
The poet, playwright, theatre director and founding director of Manyano Media (a multidisciplinary company centring Black Queer narratives) is a pivotal voice in the South African poetry landscape.
It was Bell Hooks who stated that “poetry is not a luxury”, Koleka has been intentional with the market value of her collection so as to ensure that it is accessible to those who are centred in her work: Black, Queer people. For a writer to be concerned with the pricing of their work is commendable, especially in a country like South Africa where access to literature is limited to certain groups due to expensive pricing and bookstore locations.
6. Titilope Sonuga
overflowing tales by moonlight
that informal education
trickling off the tip
of my grandmothers tongue
you will find my mother
Nigerian-born poet, writer, actor, civil engineer and performer, Titilope Sonuga, has adorned international stages in various countries. She has published two collections namely: Down To Earth and her 2016 exploration of women’s multi-layered resilience: This Is How We Disappear. The former won the 2011 Emerging Writer Award of the Canadian Author’s Association in 2011. A recipient of the 2012 Maya Angelou Poetry Contest and founder of Rogue Poetry (a poetry slam series in Edmonton Canada), Titilope is undoubtedly mighty skilled with the pen. In 2013 she flexed her skills further by releasing a spoken word album: Mother Tongue.
5. Carlo Kui
“I missed your essence completely
I was stuck in the person I met
But you evolved, and I evolved
And we missed each other.”
A self-published Kenyan writer who has blessed the world with three collections alluringly titled: From My Lips to Hers: Into My Queerness, Dear Caffe Pelle : A Poetic Love Letter, Zuri: A Short Haiku Poetry Series on Love and Loss. Their sensual poetry has earned them a spot as a nominee for the Queer Creative of the year honour from The Africa LGBT Awards. Carlo Confidential is their podcast in which ‘Love, sex, sexuality, body positivity, LGBTQIA+’ amongst other topics that set the poet’s soul on fire are explored.
4. Warsan Shire
“No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well”
A name that has surpassed the need for introductions but alas - Warsan Shire is a ground-breaking poet of the times. Her collections - Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth (2011) and Her Blue Body (2015) have garnered the Kenyan-born Somali writer a colossal amount of success and prestigious awards, notably the inaugural African Poetry Prize.
Amongst contributions to publications such as the Poetry Review, Magma, Wasafiri, Warsan has also contributed to Salt Book of Younger Poets (2011), The Pity (2014), Penguin Modern Poets 3: Your Family, Your Body (2017) and the Margaret Busby anthology, New Daughters of Africa (2019). Warsan is expected to release a transformative poetry autobiography focused on ‘poems of migration, womanhood, trauma, and resilience’ Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head in 2022.
3. Pages Matam
“In my country, we have over 200 dialects
that’s over 200 words
to say love
to say family
to say I belong to something
that does not want to kill me
that does not want to siphon the gold from
my flesh or the stories of from my bones”
Pages Matam is an artist and educator from Cameroon. Pages is a passionate National Poetry Slam poetry champion involved in various initiatives focused on advancing human rights advancement. He has graced international stages and written for The Guardian, Rising Voices, Huffington and performances for BET Lyric Café, the Apollo Theater to name a few. Pages is one of the most recognisable poets to gain international momentum.
2. Tjawangwa Dema
“Dreams are evil
I prefer nightmares
They show you what goes on in here
Reflects what goes on out there”
Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize, Tjawangwa, is a poet reigning from the lush nation of Botswana. Her areas of work are in the arts as an arts administrator, teaching artist and Honorary Senior Research Associate in the Department of English at Bristol University. Her chapbook, Mandible, was recognised as a part of The African Poetry Book Fund’s inaugural New Generation African Poets boxset. Her 2019 release, The Careless Seamstress, won the astounding poet the Sillerman Prize for African Poetry. Holding an MA in Creative Writing, Tjawangwa’s career has been an upward trajectory with many accolades and positions already accomplished as a written and spoken word poet.
1. Lebogang Mashile
“Open your eyes
Realize when your true voice calls
That no lies will hold it within
Every day of your life a new truth you
But with your eyes closed you will spin”
A career spanning for over two decades, Lebogang Mashile is a household name that has cemented her place in the literary/arts space. Lebogang is a maestro with the word in every form that she graces: theatre, television, written and spoken word. In 2006, she became a recipient of the NOMA Award for Publishing for her debut collection In A Ribbon of Rhythm (Oshun). Her second collection Flying Above the Sky (2008) along with the former collection are revered literary pieces that have been translated and included in education/ academic syllabuses in South Africa. Her later works are in the theatre, television, film and music spaces where she has continued to pen and perform incredible bodies of work. Lebogang is a pertinent voice in the feminist movement and fearless in so doing. Her poems are a lyrical fountain of melodic symphonies.
Mahlatse Mokgope is a student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. An aspiring editor (and sometimes writer) who binges sitcoms more than the ordinary comedy lover.