Islamabad-based poet Orooj-e-Zafar has won the 2nd annual Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize, which is awarded to English-language poets who self-identify as Pakistani.
The $250 prize, funded by Pakistani poet Noorulain Noor and her husband Usman Saeed, is managed by DWL. Noor and Usman set up the award in January 2015 to honor the legacy of Noor’s teacher Mrs. Judith Khan, who died in 2014. Mrs. Khan was an educator and taught English at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Pakistan. The inaugural prize was awarded in July 2015.
Orooj-e-Zafar is a spoken word poet. Her poems have appeared in Off the Coast, Melancholy Hyperbole, SEA FOAM and America is Not the World anthology by Pankhearst. She won the first Voices in Verse Poetry Slam 2015 and was a runner-up of the Pakistan Poetry Slam 2016. The founder-patrons of the poetry prize felt Orooj’s entry seemed more representative of the spirit of the prize than any other works we received this year. They thought her poems lacked pretense, and were open, inviting and vulnerable.
In addition to Orooj’s entry, the shortlist for the 2016 Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize included four other poets and we would like to acknowledge their efforts:
- Asmara Ahmed Malik, a physician and mother based in Islamabad. Asmara’s entry for the prize expertly weaved medical references in poems about love and writing to produce a haunting effect. Her poems and short stories have previously appeared in Papercuts among other publications.
- Momina Masood, a literature graduate from Lahore. Momina’s poems for the prize were dark and intense, and explored sexuality and gendered identity with a brutally fresh expression. Her poems have previously appeared in the 3:AM Magazine and The Bombay Review among other journals.
- Yusra Amjad, an English literature student, also from Lahore. Yusra’s entry expressed the desire for freedom and an ordinary existence set against the social and religious constructions of gender in a deeply familiar setting. Her works have been published previously in The Missing Slate and Cities+Secrets.
- Ayesha Raees, a film and poetry student at the Bennington College in Vermont, USA. The poems in Ayesha’s entry experimented with structure and format to explore identity and physical and emotional displacement. Her work has previously appeared in the Blue Bonnet Review and Silo.
All the shortlisted entries were impressive and we wish the shortlisted poets all the success for their poetic pursuits in the future.
In an email exchange with Orooj to inform her about her win, she revealed that she wrote the first of the two poems in her entry, “My Sister, by Land”, for her best friend on the friend’s birthday.
“She has taught me so much about what it means to use our gift of writing to feel for every living creature,” Orooj wrote. “All her struggles have softened her heart to everyone else’s, which is so rare in a world where horrible things happen all the time. She is my idea of the ultimate human being.”
Her second poem for the prize is about self-reassurance, she said.
“It has always been a struggle to live a life that is not what I carved my dreams to be, but accepting that life happens sometimes and that is okay, is such an underrated superpower,” Orooj said, in her email. “I wanted to project that sentiment and thank everyone everywhere for being with us and not giving up when they had ample opportunity to.”
On behalf of the founder-patrons of the poetry prize, DWL would like to thank all the poets who sent in their entries for the annual award. We really appreciate your efforts and urge you to continue writing. The next iteration of the poetry prize will be opened for submissions in May 2017.