Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Obituary - Kofi Awoonor

Ghanaian poet and diplomat Kofi Awoonor was among the people killed in the attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday, the Telegraph reported. He was 78 and was in Nairobi to speak at the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling that ended early because of the attack. Awoonor's son was shot in the shoulder and was treated and discharged from the hospital.

The festival, which held a memorial tribute to Awoonor yesterday evening, called him "a great African, a leading light whose footsteps leave big footprints. His legend must live on, inspiring poets and writers to be witness and chronicler of our times. We invite you to come pay tribute to him and all souls lost in the Westgate Mall siege and those bereaved, and just like the late, great professor, stand in solidarity with them by crafting words and painting pictures of the mind."

Born George Kofi Awoonor Williams, Awoonor was also deeply involved in politics. He was an associate of Ghana's first president, pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah, and went into exile in the U.K. and then the U.S., when Nkrumah was deposed in 1966. In 1975, when Awoonor returned to Ghana, he was imprisoned for helping a "political criminal," a move that was protested by International PEN, Amnesty International and writers including Allen Ginsberg. Later, after a change of regime, he served as Ghana's ambassador to Cuba, Brazil and the United Nations and was, until early this year, chairman of Ghana's Council of State.

The Telegraph said that Awoonor's early collections of poetry were "heavily inspired by the dirge singing and oral poetry of his native Ewe tribe." He also wrote about the impact of colonialism and foreign rule in Africa and his imprisonment.

Awoonor also published several novels and works of nonfiction. The African Poetry Book Fund is publishing his Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems next year. To read one of the poems, "Across a New Dawn," published by the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, click here.

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