Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts

James Berry Poetry Prize

James Berry Poetry Prize

The Prize


Open date: 1 April 2021

Closing date: 31 July 2021

No Entry Fee

PRIZE: 3 equal winners each to receive £1,000 prize, expert mentoring & debut collection published with Bloodaxe Books

The James Berry Poetry Prize will assist poets of colour with talent ready to take their work to the next level via mentoring and publication. Devised by Bernardine Evaristo, OBE, and Nathalie Teitler, the prize is modelled on The Complete Works mentoring programme previously supported by Arts Council England.

The prize is free to enter. It is open to poets of colour, who are UK residents (permanently reside in the UK: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man) who have not yet published a book-length collection, with special consideration given to LGBTQ+/disabled poets and poets from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. It is the first national poetry prize to include both mentoring and book publication. Please read the Terms and Conditions for full specification regarding elibibility criteria.

A panel of judges will choose three equal winning poets. The winning poets will be invited to take part in an annual James Berry Poetry Prize reading as part of the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts events series.

The prize is generously funded this year by Arts Council England.



Applicants must send the following three documents (plus the Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form detailed below):

  • Personal Statement
  • Writing CV
  • Portfolio of 10-12 pages of poems

All three items must be separate documents (PDF advised to retain formatting) and emailed together in one email as attachements to

Please also fill out the Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form and send to

The Personal Statement should be 2 pages maximum. It must include your name, address, phone number and email, plus answers to the following three questions:

  • How would winning the James Berry Poetry Prize benefit you?
  • What qualities are you looking for in a mentorship and how will it help you?
  • How did you discover poetry in your life and what does it mean to you?

The Writing CV should be 2 pages maximum. It should include details of any publications, readings, performances, previous mentoring experiences, creative writing degrees, teaching, editing, reviews and any relevant professional work.

The Portfolio of 10-12 pages of poetry must be the applicant’s original work and may have been published previously in a pamphlet, journal, online, anthology, YouTube, etc, as long as acknowledgement is made.

All files must be either a .doc, .docx or .pdf. All entries will be judged anonymously and the poet’s name must not appear on any page of the portfolio. Entries must be written in English, can be on any subject and can be written in any style or form.

Any queries about the prize can be sent to

Shortlisted poets and winners will be notified by the end of September 2021.

James Berry

The prize is in honour of James Berry, OBE (1927-2017), one of the first black writers in Britain to receive wider recognition. He emigrated from Jamaica in 1948, and took a job with British Telecom, where he spent much of his working life until he was able to support himself from his writing. He rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition.

His numerous books included two influential anthologies of Caribbean and Black British poetry, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (1984). His Bloodaxe retrospective A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (2011) draws on five previous collections published by New Beacon Books, Oxford University Press and Bloodaxe Books. His collection Windrush Songs (2007) was published to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. He also published several books of poetry and stories for children, and was made an OBE in 1990 for services to poetry. He was especially generous in supporting new and emerging poets of colour in Britain.

James also inspired and helped younger poets who came after him, most notably Raymond Antrobus and Hannah Lowe, who returned the favour by giving him their personal support in his later years.

Judges + Mentors


Neil Astley is the editor of Bloodaxe Books which he founded in 1978. His books include many anthologies, most notably those in the Staying Alive series: Staying Alive (2002), Being Alive (2004), Being Human (2011) and Staying Human (2020), along with three collaborations with Pamela Robertson-Pearce, Soul Food and the DVD-books In Person: 30 Poets and In Person: World Poets. He received an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry, and has published two poetry collections, Darwin Survivor and Biting My Tongue, as well as two novels, The End of My Tether (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award), and The Sheep Who Changed the World. He was given a D.Litt from Newcastle University for his work with Bloodaxe Books in 1995; is a patron and past trustee of Ledbury Poetry Festival; and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. He lives in the Tarset valley in Northumberland.




Photo credit: Pamela Robertson

Dr Nathalie Teitler HFRSL has worked promoting inclusivity in British arts, primarily literature/poetry, for 30 years. She is the Director of the Complete Works Poetry, founded by Bernardine Evaristo OBE; a mentoring and development programme that has had a significant impact on the level of Black, Asian & Latinx poets published by major UK publishers (less than 1% in 2007, it is now 22%). Born in Argentina, she is also the co-founder of Nuevo Sol- A New Sun- (along with poet Leo Boix) an organisation promoting British Latinx and Latinx/ Latin American writers around the world. 2019 she founded a new international writers collective, The Bridge for Black and Latinx poets around the world (brown, LGBTQI/disabled poets also welcome) which now has over 100 members. She also founded a dance poetry organisation, Dancing Words, in 2017 that has made a series of poetry dance films that have been seen at festivals around the world. Nathalie is also the manager of the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships.  She is currently working on a tango-based novel, set in Buenos Aires in 1900.



Photo credit: Nathalie Teitler

Sinéad Morrissey is the author of six collections. Her awards include a Lannan Literary Fellowship, First Prize in the UK National Poetry Competition, the Irish Times Poetry Now Award and the T S Eliot Prize. In 2016 she received the E M Foster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her latest collection, On Balance, received the Forward Prize in 2017 and the European Poet of Freedom Award in 2020. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2019. She has served as Belfast Poet Laureate, and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.




Photo credit: Sinéad Morrissey

Theresa Muñoz is a Canadian-born poet of Spanish and Filipino descent, now living in Edinburgh. She holds a PhD in Scottish Literature from Glasgow University. She is a Research Associate at the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts at Newcastle University, where she teaches Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in several journals, including Poetry Review, Canadian Literature and Arc magazine.  She has one poetry collection, Settle which shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize. In 2018 she won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship and a Muriel Spark Centenary Award, and in 2020 she received a Creative Scotland Award to write one of the first poetry sequences on inter-racial couples, entitled ‘Mixed Feelings’.




Photo credit: Theresa Muñoz

Jacob Sam-La Rose is a poet, editor and educator. His poetry has been translated into Portuguese, Latvian, French and Dutch, and his collection 'Breaking Silence' was shortlisted for a Fenton Aldeburgh award and a Forward Poetry prize. He has served as an artistic director for the Spoken Word Education Programme (post-graduate training and accreditation for poet-educators), Shake the Dust (a national youth poetry festival) and countless other creative development initiatives for young and emerging poets. He has delivered programmes, performances and commissioned works for the British Council, Raffles Institution (Singapore), the Open Book Festival (Cape Town), the Ministry of Education (Malaysia), the London School of Economics, Southbank Centre, the National Theatre, the Arvon Foundation, the Arts Council and more. For 2021, Sam-La Rose maintains a role as a poetry professor for Guildhall School of Music and Drama, leads the Barbican Young Poets programme (which he founded in 2009) and continues research into speculative futures for poetic composition through code and generative text.



Photo credit: Naomi Woodis


Malika Booker is a poetry lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian Parentage and the founder of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Her pamphlet Breadfruit, (flippedeye, 2007) received a Poetry Society recommendation and her poetry collection Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the OCM Bocas prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre 2014 prize for first full collection. She is published with the Poets Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire in The Penguin Modern Poet Series 3:Your Family: Your Body (2017) and her poem Nine Nights, first published in The Poetry Review in autumn 2016, was shortlisted for Best Single Poem in the 2017 Forward Prize.  Malika  currently hosts and curates Peepal Tree Press’s Literary podcast. A Cave Canem Fellow, and inaugural Poet in Residence at The Royal Shakespeare Company, Malika was awarded the Cholmondeley Award (2019) for outstanding contribution to poetry, and her poem The Little Miracles, commissioned by and published in Magma 75(autumn 2019) won The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (2020). Malika received her MA from Goldsmiths University and has recently begun a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle.


Photo credit: Malika Booker

Mimi Khalvati was born in Tehran and has lived most of her life in London.  She has published nine collections with Carcanet Press, including The Meanest Flower, shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize 2007, and Child: New and Selected Poems 1991-2011, a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation.  She was poet in residence at the Royal Mail and has held fellowships with the Royal Literary Fund at City University and at the International Writing Program in Iowa. Her awards include a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors and a major Arts Council Writer’s Award. She is the founder of The Poetry School, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of The English Society. Her most recent collection, Afterwardness (Carcanet 2019), a series of Petrarchan sonnets, is a Poetry Book Society Winter Wild Card and a book of the year in The Sunday Times and The Guardian.


Photo credit: Justin Owen

Mona Arshi worked as a Human rights lawyer at Liberty before she started writing poetry. Her debut collection Small Hands won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2015. Mona’s second collection ‘Dear Big Gods’ was published in 2019 (both books published by Liverpool University Press’s Pavilion Poetry list). She has taught and mentored extensively including the Arvon/Jerwood mentorship Programme  and the  Rebecca Swift Women’s Poetry Prize. Mona has judged both the  Forward and TS Eliot prizes as well as  the National Poetry Competition . She  makes regular appearances on radio and  has been commissioned to write both poems and short stories.  Her poems and interviews have been published in The Times, The Guardian, Granta and The Times of India as well as on the London Underground. She is currently writer in Residence at Cley Marshes with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Her debut novel Somebody Loves You will be  published with And Other Stories  in Autumn 2021. She has recently been appointed Honorary Professor at the University of Liverpool.



Photo credit: Svetlana Cernenko

Terms + Conditions



This prize has been devised to counteract the underrepresentation of British poets of colour in UK publishing. Therefore entries will only be accepted from people of colour, aged 18 or over, from any of the following backgrounds: Asian or Asian British (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Chinese, any other Asian background); Black or Black British (Caribbean, African, any other Black background); Latinx or Latinx British (Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, French-speaking Caribbean nations, Central or South American background); Mixed Heritage (White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian, any other background from more than one group); or any other background by which the entrant identifies as a person of colour.

  1. The applicant must be a UK resident (permanently reside in the UK: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man) and intending to remain in the UK for the whole of 2021 and 2022.
  2. The closing date of the prize is 31 July 2021. All entries must be received by no later than midnight on this date. Any entries arriving after this time will not be considered. 
  3. Applicants may enter only once.
  4. Under no circumstances can alterations be made to poems once entered prior to judging but poems in the winning portfolios may be altered in the course of the mentoring and publication processes. 
  5. Applicants may withdraw entries from the competition.
  6. Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts will not accept responsibility for prize entries that are lost, mislaid, damaged or delayed in transit, regardless of cause, including (for example) technical malfunction, or systems, network, server or computer hardware or software failure of any kind.
  7. Proof of transmission will not be accepted as proof of receipt of entry to the competition.
  8. Email confirmation of receipt will be available. We are unable to confirm the content of documents submitted, so please ensure you submit the correct version.

Submission & Judging

  1. Entries submitted posthumously or on behalf of another person will not be eligible.
  1. Applicants can have had poems published in magazines or online or in a pamphlet but they must not previously have published a full-length book collection of their own work, and must not have a publishing contract for a full-length collection with a publisher or literary agent.
  2. Applicants must not have a contract with a literary agent which would prevent them from agreeing to the publication contract for the mentored book-length collection offered to the three winning applicants by Bloodaxe Books, including the level of advance (£1000), royalty rates, sales territories and the publisher’s standard offer of subsidiary rights. In the event that they do have a contract with a literary agent they must undertake to remove the mentored book-length collection from the remit of that agent’s contract.
  3. Applicants must not have received extensive support from similar mentoring schemes and cannot be currently taking part in a relevant Master’s degree, e.g. a Creative Writing MA or PhD. Applicants applying to the Sky Arts RSL Writers Awards 2021 can only apply for the prize during July 2021 after the announcement of the winners of that scheme.
  4. Online entries will receive an email receipt at the time of submission.
  5. The prize organisers reserve the right to change the judging panel without notice and not to award prizes if, in the judges’ opinion, such an action is justified.
  6. Due to the large number of applicants, we are unable to respond individually to submissions.
  7. The first round of judging will be focused on the poetry submissions. Later rounds will use personal statements and CVs to judge the applicant’s suitability for mentoring at this particular stage in their work.
  8. The judges’ panel decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into concerning this decision.


  1. All winners will be expected to provide a short biography and photograph for publicity purposes.
  2. Winners will be asked to take part in the James Berry Poetry Prize reading at Newcastle University.
  3. The copyright of each poem remains with the author. However, authors of the winning poems, in submitting their work for the prize, grant Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, the right to publish and/or broadcast poems from their portfolios for the period of copyright.
  4. Winners will be asked to sign a contract for the publication of their mentored first book-length collection with Bloodaxe Books Ltd, with an advance against royalties split 50:50 between signature and publication. In the event that the mentored collection is not deemed suitable for publication, the signature instalment of the advance will be retained by the winner but the publication instalment will not be paid.
  5. Winners who fail to sign the publication contract will be disqualified and an alternative winner will be chosen instead.
  6. Mentors will be allocated to the winners by Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.

 Publicity and Personal Information

Personal information (including any photographs) supplied by applicants when entering or winning this competition will only be used by us in accordance with our Privacy Policy.


Shortlist Announced!

Seven poets have been shortlisted for the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize, Britain’s first poetry prize offering both expert mentoring and book publication for young or emerging black and minority ethnic poets.

Organised by Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts (NCLA) with Bloodaxe Books and supported by special funding from Arts Council England, the prize was launched in April 2021 and was open for four months, attracting nearly a hundred submissions. The three winners will be announced at an NCLA online event on Thursday 28 October.

The seven shortlisted poets are: Dzifa Benson, Asmaa Jama, Kaycee Hill, Minying Huang, Marjorie Lotfi, Yvette Siegert and Kim Squirrell.

The three winners will each receive year-long mentoring during 2021-22 plus £1000 and publication of their debut book length collections with Bloodaxe in 2023. They will take part in a reading with other shortlisted poets in Newcastle University's NCLA events series on Thursday 28 October at 7pm – hosted by two of the judges, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Theresa Muñoz. To book a place at this event please click on this link.

The prize was judged by Neil Astley, Sinéad Morrissey, Theresa Muñoz, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Nathalie Teitler. Theresa Muñoz said of the judging:

‘I feel very privileged to have been a judge on the James Berry Poetry Prize on behalf of NCLA and in partnership with Bloodaxe Books. The judging process saw us whittle down nearly a hundred entries to a shortlist of seven poets including three equal winners whose voices will become even louder and stronger due to the expert mentoring and publication of debut collections made possible by the prize. The range of poetry we encountered was inspirational. Portfolios included poems set in all corners of the globe which explored issues of language, family, prejudice, political warfare, exile and imprisonment. I am proud that the James Berry Poetry Prize creates new opportunities for poets in the UK.'

The mentors for the winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize will be Mona Arshi, Malika Booker and Mimi Khalvati. The prize is part of an inclusivity project devised for Bloodaxe by Nathalie Teitler with Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo whose own debut poetry book Lara is published by Bloodaxe. It is named in honour of James Berry, OBE (1927-2017), one of the first black writers in Britain to receive wider recognition. He emigrated from Jamaica in 1948, and took a job with British Telecom, where he spent much of his working life until he was able to support himself from his writing. He rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition.

James Berry's numerous books included two seminal anthologies of Caribbean-British poetry, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (Chatto & Windus, 1981), and A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), drawing on five earlier collections including Windrush Songs (2007), published to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. James also inspired and helped younger poets who came after him, most notably Raymond Antrobus and Hannah Lowe – both shortlisted for this year's T.S. Eliot Prize – who returned the favour by giving him their personal support in his later years.

Sinéad Morrissey, prize judge and Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University, commented:

'The prize builds on the vital partnership already in place between Newcastle University and Bloodaxe Books: one of the most important publishers of poetry in the world. The shared commitment by NCLA and Bloodaxe to help diversify UK poetry through increased publication and performance opportunities will be greatly strengthened by the James Berry Poetry Prize, which will mentor and support emerging talent from previously underrepresented BAME communities and change the landscape of UK poetry for generations to come.'

Neil Astley, founder and editor of Bloodaxe Books and a prize judge, said:

'We are delighted to be working with the NCLA on the James Berry Poetry Prize, the first award which offers both mentoring and first book publication not just to one but three emerging BAME poets. We will also benefit greatly from having experienced poets and educationalists of the calibre of Mona Arshi, Malika Booker, Mimi Khalvati, Theresa Muñoz and Jacob Sam-La Rose as mentors or judges.'

Jacob Sam-La Rose, prize judge:

'The fact that my copy of James Berry's Bluefoot Traveller was sitting on my desk the day I first received details of the prize, completely coincidentally, felt like an auspicious sign. The investment in a legacy that celebrates and recognises new generations of writers from diverse backgrounds resonates with me, deeply. Much has been said about the work that needs to be done to broaden the range of voices and perspectives represented in poetry publishing in the UK; the work that both Nathalie Teitler and Bernardine Evaristo have done in this regard has been both essential and brilliant. Building on the spirit and successes of The Complete Works, alongside Bloodaxe's track record and standing, the James Berry Poetry Prize promises to be an initiative that's not just about acknowledgement but also transformative, meaningful development. I'm looking forward to the whole process – from the shortlisting (which will no doubt provide a far-reaching overview of the work that's being produced across the country from poets who are all too often underrepresented) to the work that's finally developed as a result.'

Mona Arshi, mentor:

'It really is a huge honour to be involved in the prize and I am delighted to be mentoring and helping to develop the work of a talented poet who will be chosen by the selection team. The prize provides a wonderful new opportunity for poets whose work is often underrepresented or sidelined and I am so pleased to see it in the world.'

Imtiaz Dharker, Chancellor of Newcastle University:

'I am thrilled with this initiative from Newcastle University’s Centre for Literary Arts and Bloodaxe Books. The James Berry Poetry Prize opens up a whole new avenue for poets of colour, with the chance of winning a precious year of mentoring and a debut collection published by Bloodaxe. It just shows what is possible when people are intent on causing change. An idea devised by Bernardine Evaristo and Dr Nathalie Teitler was taken up enthusiastically by NCLA and Bloodaxe, who have always been committed to diversifying UK poetry, and will be carried forward with outstanding judges and mentors. This is a dream project that will rewrite the future for many poets.'

Sharing a commitment with Bloodaxe Books to diversify the UK poetry sector, NCLA has already worked with Bloodaxe on other projects relating to the promotion of BAME writers, such as Freedom City, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr being awarded an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University, including the publication of a celebratory anthology, The Mighty Stream: poems in celebration of Martin Luther King, and Out of Bounds, a national project promoting the work of BAME poets based around on another anthology co-published by Newcastle University with Bloodaxe.

The James Berry Poetry Prize was inspired by the success of the ten-year Complete Works mentoring scheme founded by Bernardine Evaristo and managed by Nathalie Teitler with funding from Arts Council England. This initiative saw the work of 30 new or emerging BAME poets showcased in three TEN anthologies of ten poets co-published with Bloodaxe in 20102014 and 2017. The Complete Works scheme was devised to redress the low proportion of publications by poets of colour in the UK identified in the Arts Council’s Free Verse report (2005) on diversity in British poetry publishing which Bernardine Evaristo herself initiated.

Poets from the Complete Works series have gone on to make a big impact on the British poetry scene.  They include two recent winners of the T.S. Eliot Prize, Roger Robinson (2019) and Sarah Howe (2016, also Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award); Mona Arshi, winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016; Jay Bernard (2016) and Inua Ellams (2017), winners of the Ted Hughes Award; and Warsan Shire, who collaborated with Beyoncé on her visual album, Lemonade in 2016, which featured many of Shire’s poems.

The James Berry Poetry Prize is funded by Arts Council England and will also become a pilot for a scheme which Bloodaxe Books plans to develop as part of its Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation funding from 2023 under which three more emerging BAME poets will be mentored and published every three years. The prize was free to enter and open to BAME/BIPOC poets who have not published a book-length collection, with special consideration given to LGBTQ+/disabled poets and poets from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.