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Queen Mary alumnus wins prestigious poetry award

Caleb Femi, who graduated from Queen Mary University of London with a degree in English in 2013, was one of the recipients of the Forward Prizes for Poetry.

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He won the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection for Poor, which examines the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. It includes photographs taken by Caleb himself alongside the poetry, with one piece being dedicated to Damilola Taylor.

Judges praised the collection’s powerful and lyrical qualities, in addition to its virtuosity.

Dr Suzanne Hobson, Head of the Department of English at Queen Mary said: “This is wonderful news, and we would all like to congratulate Caleb on his very well-deserved success. Poetry is a key part of our research culture and curriculum at Queen Mary and it is fantastic to see one of our graduates go on to receive this hugely influential prize. We are excited to see where Caleb’s career takes him next.”

Between 2016 and 2018, Caleb was the Young People’s Laureate for London. This involved working with young people on a local, national and global level. He was also featured in the Dazed 100 list of the next generation shaping youth culture.

Commenting on the Forward Prizes, James Naughtie, The chair of the 2021 Forward Prizes jury, remarked: “We know that the year – and more – of the pandemic was also the year of reading. And that means poetry as well as prose. It was a time when everyone was reminded how much we need to be exposed to the power of the imagination. And the short lists for the Forward Prizes 2021 are a reminder that the poetic imagination isn’t wholly introspective, although it cuts deep. It’s bold, limitless in ambition and it touches every part of our lives – our own hopes and fears, our communities, and the wider world that so often seems bewildering and over-powering.

“These poets find pathways into the deepest feelings and discover vantage points that take a reader (or a listener) to another place. In their hands we look at the world differently. This is a moment for poetry; and all these poets deliver. Read them, and take off.”