Vancouver poet makes short list for top Griffin poetry prize

Tolu Oloruntoba’s The Junta of Happenstance has been picked as one of the seven finalists for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize

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vancouver poet Tolu Oloruntoba‘s The Board of Happiness has been picked as one of the seven finalists for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize.

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“I am stunned and very honored to be on this shortlist with so many fabulous poets. I am still working out what it means to me, but at this moment I feel gratitude and a sense of community,” said Oloruntoba who added he found out he had been chosen while he was scrolling Twitter, making breakfast and getting his kindergartner’s lunchbox ready for school.

“The judges read hundreds of books to create both shortlists, and had very kind and insightful citations for all seven finalists. I am incredibly grateful to them for this work, and to all the readers of these books around the world. I must, of course, thank my editor, Jim Johnstone, and my publisher Aimeé Parent Dunn, who took a chance on this debut collection.”

Oloruntoba went to explain in an email The Board of Happiness, which won the 2021 Governor General Literary Award, is about: “conflict — inter-personal, societal, historical, and mental — but not for its own sake. It battles with the gloom in order to vanquish it.

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“We must confront our contradictions and untenable circumstances and continue our search for solace with insistent questions and actions. Having this book shortlisted feels like a validation of that message to me, as well as the craft and collaborative care that went into publishing the book,” Oloruntoba added.

Oloruntoba’s poetry has appeared in, or is forthcoming, in publications including Harvard Divinity Bulletin, PRISM International, Columbia Journal and Canadian Literature. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His short fiction by him has appeared in translation in Dansk PEN Magazine.

Judges Adam Dickinson (Canada), Valzhyna Mort (Belarus/US), and Claudia Rankine (Jamaica/US) each read 639 books of poetry, including 57 translations from 24 languages, submitted by 236 publishers from 16 different countries.

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The judges in their citation for Oloruntoba described The Junta of Happenstance as a “dazzling” debut collection.

“These poems go beyond the desire to ward off death,” the judges said in a statement. “They emerge out of a life intimate with death’s randomness. Like the vicissitudes of war, Oloruntoba’s poems make peace with accident and fate. They bring breath to survival…These exquisite poems leave an imprint both violent and terrifyingly beautiful.”

Before becoming a manager for health projects for various health authorities in BC Oloruntoba practiced medicine. I have lived in Nigeria and the United States before emigrating to the Vancouver area.

The two winners will be announced on June 15 and will each be awarded $65,000. The other finalists — three international and two Canadian — will be awarded $10,000.

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The lists of finalists for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize are below:


Dream of No One But Myself by David Bradford

Brick Books

Letters in a Bruised Cosmos by Liz Howard

McClelland & Stewart

The Board of Happiness by Tolu Oloruntoba

Anstruther Books/Palimpsest Press


Late to the House of Words by Sharon Dolin, translated from the Catalan written by Gemma Gorga

Saturnalia Books

Sho by Douglas Kearney

Wave Books

Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky, translated from the Ukrainian written by Natalka Bilotserkivets

Lost Horse Press

Asked What Has Changed by Ed Robertson

Wesleyan University Press

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