Kofi Awoonor

(1935-2013 / Wheta, Gold Coast / Ghana)

Biography of Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor poet

Kofi Awoonor (13 March 1935 – 21 September 2013) was a Ghanaian poet and author whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization. He started writing under the name George Awoonor-Williams. He taught African literature at the University of Ghana. Professor Awoonor was among those who were killed in the September 2013 attack at Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was a participant at the Storymoja Hay Festival.
Awoonor was born in Ghana when it was still called the Gold Coast. He was the eldest of 10 children in the family. He was educated at Achimota School and then proceeded to the University of Ghana. While at university he wrote his first poetry book, Rediscovery, published in 1964. Like the rest of his work, Rediscovery is rooted in African oral poetry. In Ghana, he managed the Ghana Film Corporation and founded the Ghana Play House. His early works were inspired by the singing and verse of his native Ewe people.
He then studied literature at University College London, and while in England he wrote several radio plays for the BBC. He spent the early 1970s in the United States, studying and teaching at Stony Brook University (then called SUNY at Stony Brook). While in the USA he wrote This Earth, My Brother, and My Blood. Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 as head of the English department at the University of Cape Coast. Within months he was arrested for helping a soldier accused of trying to overthrow the military government and was imprisoned without trial and was later released. The House by the Sea is about his time in jail. After imprisonment Awoonor became politically active. he continued to write mostly nonfiction. Awoonor was Ghana's ambassador to Brazil from 1984 to 1988, before serving as his country's ambassador to Cuba.From 1990 to 1994 Awoonor was Ghana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, where he headed the committee against apartheid. He was also a former Chairman of the Council of State.
On 21 September 2013, Awoonor was among those killed in an attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. He was in Kenya as a participant in the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling, at which he was due to perform on the evening of his death. His nephew Nii Parkes, who was attending the same literary festival, has written about meeting him for the first time that day. The Ghanaian government confirmed Awoonor's death the next day. His son Afetsi was also shot, but was later discharged from hospital.
Awoonor's remains were flown from Nairobi to Accra, Ghana, on 25 September 2013.
His body was cremated and buried at particular spot in his hometown at Weta in the Volta Region. Also there was no crying or mourning at his funeral all according to his will before death.

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The Earth, My Brother

The dawn crack of sounds known
rending our air
shattering our temples toppling
raising earthwards our cathedrals of hope,
in demand of lives offered on those altars
for the cleansing that was done long ago.

Within the airwaves we carry
our hutted entrails; and we pray;

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