|Donald Agarrat (photo © Jen Bekman, from Flickr)|
|Donald in June (photo by John Keene)|
Donald's family is raising money to bury him properly. If you want to and can contribute, you may do so here: Donald Agarrat Memorial Fund.
Kofi Awoonor was born in Ghana when it was still a British colony known as The Gold Coast, and began publishing his poetry in the 1960s under the name George Awoonor-Williams. His work, which included poetry, novels, plays and essays, is perhaps most strongly informed by his native Ewe oral traditions (his grandmother was an Ewe dirge-singer), though one can also see parallels in the later poems to other emergent African poetries of the independence era and African Diasporic poetries, as well as the influences of the Modernist-era and mid-century Anglophone lyric.
Awoonor studied at the University of Ghana and University College, London, and lived in exile in the United States in the 1970s, where he received his PhD at and served as chairman of the department of comparative literature at SUNY Stony Brook and published two of his major books, the novel-in-verse This Earth, My Brother and the poetry collection The Night of My Blood.
After returning to Ghana to teach at the University of the Cape Coast, he was imprisoned in 1975 on the pretext of participation in a coup, which sparked worldwide condemnation. He also served as Ghana's ambassador to Cuba and Brazil in the 1980s, and as the country's 8th Permanent Representative (Ambassador) to the United Nations from 1990-1994, where he headed the committee against Apartheid. Earlier he had served as Ghana's Chairman of the Council of State.
The University of Nebraska Press, in conjunction with the African Poetry Book Series, established by the editor of Prairie Schooner, the eminent Ghanaian-Jamaican poet and editor Kwame Dawes, is slated to publish Awoonor's New and Selected Poems: 1964-2013 next year, with an introduction by fellow Ghanaian poet and scholar Kofi Anyidoho. It was to be perhaps one capstone to an exceptional career, but the book will now also serve as a tribute to a poet, statesman, teacher, mentor, and friend to countless other writers, across Ghana, across Africa, across Africa, and all over the globe. As Kwame Dawes wrote on Twitter: “Kofi Awoonor's death is a sad sad moment here in Nairobi. We have lost one of the greatest African poets and diplomats. I've lost my uncle. I woke hoping that the news I got late in the night was false.”
THE WEAVER BIRD The weaver bird built in our house And laid its eggs on our only tree We did not want to send it away We watched the building of the nest And supervised the egg-laying. And the weaver returned in the guise of the owner Preaching salvation to us that own the house They say it came from the west Where the storms at the sea has felled the gulls And the fishers dried their nets by the lantern light Its sermon is the divination of ourselves And over new horizons limit at its nest But we cannot join the prayers and the answers of the communicants. We look for new homes every day, For new altars we strive to rebuild The old shrines defiled from the weaver’s excrement
Copyright © Kofi Awoonor, from Poetry Foundation Ghana, 2013. All rights reserved.