TFAA 15 Prize In Literature Winner, Logan February Is The Youngest To Ever Win A Future Award.
Poetry was not Logan Toluwalase Akinwale’s first love—music was. Born in 1999, they grew up around a variety of music. Then, when they were 16, a friend asked them for help with an assignment on the American writer Sylvia Plath. They read two of her collections, The Colossus and Ariel. “I was very confused, but I was fascinated,” they tell Open Country Mag in late December. “Plath definitely was someone who made me feel like I could write my own poems.”
While they started writing very conscious poems after Plath, Instagram poetry taught them consistency. Many of the Instapoets had typewriters, and they, who had just seen, and were deeply moved by, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, got one, too. “I felt, like, I’m discovering something here,” they say of that moment. “I’m discovering how to really say something that I never knew was possible to say.” Their Instagram account name was loganfebruary—they liked Logan’s “Scottish-Gaelic meaning, small hollow” and February signifies a “reclaiming”—and they chose it as their pen name.
One day in December 2016, on the typewriter, Logan February wrote their chapbook, How to Cook a Ghost. “I was just, like, in a mood,” they say. Before writing How to Cook a Ghost, they had begun work on another, Painted Blue with Saltwater. They sent some poems from it to literary magazines.
In 2017, February attended the Winter Tangerine Workshop, which helped them navigate the poetics of identity. That year, Glass Poetry Press published How to Cook a Ghost. The following year, Indolent Books published Painted Blue with Saltwater. And in 2019, PANK Books published their full-length collection, Mannequin in the Nude. In February’s poems, the queer body is magic, and through that magic they explore sexuality, spirituality, and mental health. They weave Yoruba thoughts and superstitions and beliefs into something urgent and intense. With three books in three years from American presses, they now had recognition as one of the most exciting new voices on the scene—and they did it while still based in Nigeria.
But February also wanted institutional validation “as an African poet.” One of their heroes, the Sudanese poet Safia Elhillo, had won both the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and the Sillerman Prize for African Poetry. February submitted poems to the Brunel Prize thrice and wasn’t shortlisted. They submitted the manuscript of Mannequin in the Nude to the Sillerman Prize, which only shortlisted it. It was a little frustrating. “I wanted that,” February says. “I wanted that security.”
The gap in their resume was being noticed, too, but as a positive. In July 2019, the poet Romeo Oriogun tweeted that February’s “path toward publishing is a disruption of the system of things.” February tells Open Country Mag that they decided to focus on what was most important. “The dream was to be able to just keep writing. If I didn’t get this, then would I not write?” (At the end of that year, the Booker Prize-winning novelist Bernardine Evaristo, founder of the Brunel Prize, would tweet that February is “precociously talented.”)
Last year, they contributed a poem to The Cost of Our Lives, an album by The Ignis Brothers. They collaborated with the fashion brand Orangeculture NG for its Fall 2020 campaign: their poem was used in a promotional film. Then they appeared in a Burberry campaign celebrating queerness.
On 28 November 2020, February was at a friend’s house for dinner when their phone buzzed, and they realised that they just won The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. The recognition is one of a set of prizes given by The Future Awards Africa (TFAA) to young Nigerians and Africans who have stood out in different fields. They quickly turned off their phone, unbelieving. Minutes later, a friend said, “Hey, you just won an award.”
“I felt, like, OMG, it’s real!” February says. It is their very first award.
Although founded in 2005, it was in 2019, 14 years later, that TFAA created a Prize for Literature. The first winner was the writer and editor Otosirieze Obi-Young, at 25. But other writers have also won Future Awards: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, at 31, won the Young Person of the Year Prize in 2008, and Ayobami Adebayo, at 29, won the Prize for Arts and Culture in 2017. February, at 21, is the youngest of all four. They are also the youngest ever, alongside the musician Rema, to win a Future Award.
Beyond creative writing, February is an LGBTQ advocate. During Pride Month in 2020, they guest-edited YNaija‘s “There Is Hope” series. It is not without implication that two writers who do LGBTQ advocacy have won the first two Future Awards Africa Prizes for Literature.
“I think a statement is being made, in terms of the fact that queer creatives and queer writers create a lot of important work,” February says. Being a non-binary person, they never expected to win an award in Nigeria or Africa. “Beyond that, there’s this idea of: I know I’m not making revolutionary work, just being queer in Nigeria is this thing that is complex on its own. It’s an important thing to recognise and to give us an equal and fair consideration. This, in a way, represents the future of Africa that I’d like to see. I’d like to see more people like me being let in and being given access to all the creative resources we need.”
But February is not optimistic about Nigerian homophobia reducing. “The culture changes, the culture shifts, but the law takes a very long time to change. We just have to hope.”
This January, February will begin their MFA at the University of Purdue. They are working on “a text” that might end up being a novel. Some of their poems will be published in translation, in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina. PANK Books will also publish a new edition of Mannequin in the Nude.
Not surprisingly, February has remained faithful to their first love. They have released three songs: “Black SUV,” “Games,” and “Berlin.”