Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Lest we think that terrorism does not affect the world poetry community, remember Kofi Awoonor who was killed in the September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kofi Awoonor was a renowned Ghanaian poet, diplomat and statesman, actor and academic.  He was in Nairobi to attend and read at the Storymoja Hay Festival, an annual writing and storytelling festival.

He was born George Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor-Williams in 1935 but for the last 40 years has been Kofi Awoonor.

After graduating from the university in Ghana, he was a researcher at the Institute of African Studies before being appointed to run the Ghana Film Corporation.  He was a founder of the Ghana Playhouse.  He wrote, produced and acted in plays.

In 1975, after finishing more university studies abroad, he returned to Ghana. He became embroiled in one of the “subversion trials” of the military regime and spent almost a year on death row in prison.  The House by the Sea chronicles his time in jail.

Kofi Awoonor served as Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil, to Cuba, and to a number of South American countries.  He was also Ghana’s ambassador to United Nations and served as chairman of the UN’s anti-apartheid committee during South Africa’s transition from 1990 to 1994.  He served as chairman of the Council of State, the main advisory body to Ghana’s president, from 2009 until January of this year.

His first novel, This Earth, My Brother, is an experimental work he described as a prose poem.  The story is told on two levels.  The first level is a standard narrative representing reality.  The second is a mystical journey full of literary and biblical allusions and this text deals with the new nation of Ghana.

He is most known for his poetry.

To hear Kofi Awoonor read one of his poems, click here.

To read one of his last poems, click here.

Another poem by Kofi Awooner:


The bowling cry through door posts
carrying boiling pots
ready for the feasters.

Kutsiami the benevolent boatman;
When I come to the river shore
please ferry me across
I do not have my cloth-end
the price of your stewardship.

[Kutsiami, in Ewe mythology, is the ferryman on the river which divides the living and the dead.]

It is terrible when any human is killed by terrorist acts.  When terrorism destroys a creative spirit, a creative voice, the light of the world dims and our loss is vast.  

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