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James Berry Poetry Prize

Second James Berry Poetry Prize launched

Published on: 15 April 2024

The second James Berry Poetry Prize has opened for submissions.

Young or emerging poets of colour

Launched in 2021, the James Berry Poetry Prize is Britain’s first and only poetry prize offering both expert mentoring and book publication by Bloodaxe Books for young or emerging poets of colour. Its joint organisers are Newcastle University and Bloodaxe Books.

The first winners of the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize were Kaycee Hill, who was mentored by Malika Booker, Marjorie Lotfi, mentored by Mimi Khalvati, and Yvette Siegert, mentored by Mona Arshi. Kaycee Hill’s debut collection, Hot Sauce, and Marjorie Lotfi’s, The Wrong Person to Ask, were launched at the inaugural prizewinners’ event hosted by NCLA (Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts) at Culturelab in November 2023. The debut collection by the third winner, Yvette Siegert, will be published later.

The three equal winners of the second James Berry Poetry Prize will each receive year-long mentoring during 2024-25 plus £1000 and publication of their debut book length collections with Bloodaxe in 2026. The judges in 2024 include editor of Bloodaxe Books, Neil Astley; poet and Director of the Newcastle Poetry Festival at Newcastle University, Theresa Muñoz; diversity specialist Nathalie Teitler; poet Imtiaz Dharker, holder of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and Chancellor of Newcastle University; and poet and professor Major Jackson, who holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University in the US and has worked with Newcastle University on previous projects.

The 2024 winning poets will be mentored by poets Patience Agbabi, Karen McCarthy Woolf, and Jacob Sam-La Rose, one of the judges of the 2021 inaugural prize.

A pathway

Theresa Muñoz says: ‘We are delighted to partner with Bloodaxe Books on the second iteration of the James Berry Poetry Prize. As judge and prize manager, I have seen firsthand how this prize changes the lives of emerging writers of colour– giving them a voice, platform, expert mentoring and a pathway into the world of poetry publication, which is a difficult milestone to achieve.”

Neil Astley says: “We are delighted to be working with Newcastle University again on the James Berry Poetry Prize, the first award which offers both mentoring and first book publication not just to one but to three young or emerging poets of colour. We will also benefit greatly from having experienced poets and educationalists of the calibre of Patience Agbabi, Imtiaz Dharker, Major Jackson, Theresa Muñoz, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Nathalie Teitler and Karen McCarthy Woolf as mentors or judges. The involvement of the distinguished poet and professor Major Jackson from Vanderbilt University in the US gives this prize an added international dimension. He previously supported the Freedom City celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King being given an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University which now has Imtiaz Dharker – another of our judges – as its Chancellor.”


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  who returned the favour by giving him their personal support in his later years. The winners and shortlisted poets will also receive copies of James Berry’s books from Bloodaxe.

Sharing a commitment with Bloodaxe Books to diversify the UK poetry sector, Newcastle University has previously worked with Bloodaxe on other projects relating to the promotion of poets of colour, such as Freedom City in 2017, 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 poets of colour based around on another anthology co-published by Newcastle University with Bloodaxe.

The James Berry Poetry Prize builds on the legacy of the ten-year Complete Works mentoring scheme founded by Bernardine Evaristo and managed by Nathalie Teitler with funding from Arts Council England. 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. A new anthology featuring the work of all 30 poets, Mapping the Future: The Complete Works Poets, edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Nathalie Teitler, was published by Bloodaxe Books in October 2023.

NCLA received special funding from Arts Council England to run the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize as a pilot project in partnership with Bloodaxe Books. The 2024 James Berry Poetry Prize is supported by an uplift in Bloodaxe’s Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation funding for 2023-26 designated for inclusivity projects.

Run in partnership with Newcastle University, the prize is free to enter and open to Black and minority ethnic poets who have not published a book-length collection, with special consideration given to LGBTQ+/disabled poets and poets from underrepresented backgrounds. The prize will be open for submissions until 31st July 2024.

Details on how to enter can be found here.


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