British Columbia writer Tolu Oloruntoba wins $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize for his first book

TORONTO – Tolu Oloruntoba, a British Columbia doctor turned writer, has been named Canada’s winner of this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize.

Oloruntoba received the $65,000 honor in an online ceremony Wednesday for his debut collection, “The Junta of Happenstance,” from Anstruther Books.

In the book, Oloruntoba draws on his medical knowledge to dissect disease, immigration and colonialism.

In their citation, the jurors said “exquisite poems leave an imprint that is both violent and terrifyingly beautiful”.

The international prize, also worth $65,000, went to “Sho,” from St. Paul, Minnesota-based word editor Douglas Kearney of Wave Books.

Oloruntoba began his career as a primary care physician in Nigeria before moving to the United States for post-graduate studies and eventually settling in Metro Vancouver to work as a healthcare manager.

Poetry has been a constant throughout Oloruntoba’s peripatetic trajectory. And he has recently become a name to watch on the Canadian literary scene.

“The Junta of Happenstance” won the English-Language Poetry Prize at the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards.

Her chapbook, “Manubrium”, was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Her poetry was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Harvard Divinity Bulletin, PRISM International, and Columbia Journal .

The Canadian finalists were David Bradford of Montreal for “Dream of No One But Myself”, published by Brick Books, and 2016 Griffin winner Liz Howard, who is based in Toronto, for “Letters in a Bruised Cosmos” by McClelland & Stewart .

Also in the running for the international prize: Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky’s translation of “Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow” by Ukrainian poet Natalka Bilotserkivets, published by Lost Horse Press; Chicago writer Ed Roberson for “Asked What Has Changed,” from Wesleyan University Press; and “Late to the House of Words”, Sharon Dolin’s translation of the Catalan work by Gemma Gorga from Barcelona, ​​published by Saturnalia Books.

Each finalist received $10,000.

Nominees were selected from 639 books of poetry submitted by 236 publishers from 16 different countries, according to prize organizers. This year’s jury is made up of Canadian writer Adam Dickinson, Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort and American poet and playwright Claudia Rankine.

The Griffin is billed as the world’s largest prize for a unique first edition poetry collection written or translated into English.

The Griffin Trust was founded in 2000 by Chairman Scott Griffin, along with trustees Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson and David Young.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 15, 2022.

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