Friday, April 16, 2010


Demise of a great wordsmith

It was with great sadness that I personally learnt about the death of Prof Dennis Vincent Brutus, an academic, political activist and world class poet.

In 1988 when I was in exile at the ANC School, the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) in Morogoro Tanzania, I established the poetry link with Prof Brutus who then lectured in the Department of Black community, Education, Research and Development at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the USA.

He personally sent me a number of interesting poetry magazines (The Gar) relevant to his poetry and the struggle to South Africa, which together with the SOMAFCO poets we used (the material) during our poetry workshop.

Prof Dennis Brutus also sent some us some of his anthologies of poems including Letters to Martha and other poems from a South African prison, A simple lust and Censure published in Enugu, Nigeria.

I recall that on behalf of the Somafco Poets I sent our poems to Prof Brutus and he edited and published them in magazines (CALLALO) and newspapers including the People (UWAP) at the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1989 a Senegalese lecturer Pierrette Herzberger- Fofana from the University of Erlangen in West Germany requested me to make a contribution to a book Critical Perspectives on African Literature in honour of Dennis Brutus’s 65th birthday in 1989.

Poets and writers across the board are deeply saddened by his death. Brutus left a polished mark in the national and international poetry.
- F Qoopane

Sunday, April 11, 2010


(above) Oyono's Houseboy

It must be confessed that it was something of a relief to learn that Aryan Kaganof, Supremo of the movie, Sugar Man had a symbolic message whilst depicting black men as "impotent" whilst faced with the powerful attractions of white prostitutes in his movie.

Indeed the erotic scenes dished out by the white ladies in this movie are very mouth-watering. The women go out of their way to try to galvanise the black clients into action, but they largely fail. This aspect will certainly not go down well with most black viewers, unaware of the "message" from Kaganof, who depicts them in this wise.

The history of African Black writing for decades has shown the black African's fascination with white women. Many memorable works of fiction published by African authors have emphasized this over the years. Ayi Kwei Armah's Fragments is just one of such works (Aimee is the white lady in the book). In Kole Omotosho's The Edifice, a white English lady, Daisy, is the object of interest.

Perhaps the most powrful, tentative description in this wise occurs in Ferdinand Oyono's Houseboy where the young protagonist almost goes crazy after a mere handshake with a white woman:

"I have held the hand of my queen. I felt that I was really alive. From now on my hand is hand belongs to my queen whose hair is the colour of ebony...whose skin is pink and white as ivory. A shudder ran through my body at the touch of her tiny moist life was mingling with hers at the touch of her hand. Her smile is as refreshing as a spring of water. Her look is as warm as a ray from the setting sun"
(from Oyono's Houseboy)

Apparently, virility is taken for granted by black African writers and there is hardly any hint of impotence in the continent's literary works, save occasionally where the man in question is elderly. (In Sugar Man the 'disabled' blacks are young hunks!). The only African work that comes to mind as regards impotence is Sembene Ousmane's Xala, though of course both the man and the young lady in question are blacks.

Here's a thought: What if Aryan Kaganof (considers) turning the movie Sugar Man into a novel? This would better explain (if possible) the motivations and plight of the characters in the movie; though I still believe the author would be hard-pressed to explain the shortcomings of the black characters, no matter how peripheral they might be in the movie. Meanwhile Black African literature blog salutes the earth-shattering performances of Leigh Graves, Deja Bernhardt and Co!!!
- R Khotseng

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Odia garners Fonlon-Nichols Award

Nigerian poet, essayist, journalist, and social critic, Odia Ofeimun emerged the 2010 winner of the Fonlon-Nichols Award. The award, administered by the African Literature Association, ALA, is given to an African writer every year for excellence in creative writing and for contributions to the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression, according to Dr. Oty Agbajoh-Laoye, chair of the ALA awards committee.

Mr. Ofeimun is the author of eight collections of poems and numerous essays on political analysis and cultural criticism. His most recent volumes include Go Tell the Generals, A Boiling Caracas and Other Poems, and I Will Ask Questions With Stones If They Take My Voice, and Lagos of the Poets, a poetry anthology. In 2008, Los Nin├Ás del Estero, a selection of his poems, was published in a Spanish translation in Mexico.

Ofeimun was born on March 16, 1950. He published his first book of poems, the critically acclaimed The Poet Lied, at the age of 25. His career began as a journalist and literary correspondent with The Midwest Echo, a newspaper based in Benin, capital of present-day Edo State, in Nigeria. He has also had experiences as a factory worker, civil servant, and union organizer. After a stint as a graduate student of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, he was appointed as the private secretary to Nigeria's leading political figure and former presidential candidate, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in 1978. Following the fall of the Second Republic, Ofeimun published A Handle for the Flutist, his second poetry collection. He also became a member of the editorial board of The Guardian (Lagos).

From 1989, he was a British Council fellow at Oxford University in England; he lived in London and worked with Nigerian expatriates in the pro-democratic New Nigeria Forum until 1993 when he returned to Nigeria in the wake of the controversial June 12 presidential elections of that year. From this point, Ofeimun's political and literary engagements followed two distinct but interconnected paths: he became the president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), and the lead columnist for the hitherto-clandestine TheNEWS/TEMPO publications. His tenure as president of the writers' body (of which he had been publicity secretary and general secretary between 1982 and 1988) coincided with the political crisis of the 1990s, and it has to be borne in mind that his immediate predecessor was the late writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The annulment of the presidential elections precipitated the "stepping-aside" of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria military president (1985-1993), and the rise to power of General Sani Abacha, under whose tenure the country experienced untold political and economic repressions. Progressive political opposition to the military dictatorship coalesced around the groups National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the Campaign for Democracy (CD), and the Democratic Alternative (DA). Although his political connections were strongest with the first, Ofeimun dedicated his weekly columns in TheNEWS to championing and appraising the activities of all the three groups. Those classic pieces, including such titles as "The June Twelvers' Dilemma", "The Ngbati Press", "On Whose Side are the Orisa?", are remarkable for their robust illumination of modern Nigerian (and indeed, African) political and cultural history, and for their thoughtful eloquence as a most accomplished example of the concern of African writers for the lives of the majority in their societies. Ofeimun's tenure as ANA president ended in 1997, but his relationship with TheNEWS/TEMPO continued for a little longer, peaking with the organization's second period of "guerrilla journalism" (1995-1998).

In April 1995, while attempting to travel to England for a conference sponsored by the New Nigeria Forum, Odia Ofeimun was stopped by security agents at the airport in Lagos. Although they never succeeded in jailing him, the agents questioned him on his political and other activities, and his travel documents were confiscated. For the next three years he was unable to travel outside of Nigeria, and would not regain his passport until the period of "liberalization" which followed the death of General Abacha in June 1998.

In spite of these involvements, Ofeimun found time for creative writing. His career as a poet suffered undeniably from the crisis in the publishing industry, like that of many African-based writers in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2000, he published three volumes of poems: A Feast of Return Under African Skies, Dreams at Work and Other Poems, and London Letter and Other Poems. Ofeimun's poems have been widely anthologized. His works-in-progress include the poetry anthology "Twentieth Century Nigerian Poetry", the essay collections "Africa's Many Mansions" and "In Search of Ogun", and a long-awaited political biography of Obafemi Awolowo. Since Nigeria's return to civil rule, Ofeimun has become a highly-respected and much-sought-after opinion leader and public speaker, giving speeches to NGOs and other civil society outfits. He is a leading champion of human rights and anti-corruption crusades in Nigeria, and he remains steadfastly independent of political organizations in the country.

The Fonlon-Nichols award was established in 1992 to honor Bernard Fonlon and Lee Nichols for their own contributions to both African literature and freedom of expression. Past winners include Rene Philombe, Werewere Liking, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nuruddin Farah, Nawal el Saadawi, Niyi Osundare, Assia Djebar, Abdullatif Laabi, Wole Soyinka, Pius Nganda Nkashama, and Tess Onwueme. This year the award was publicly presented at the 36th annual conference of the African Literature Association March 10 - 14, 2010 held in the University of Arizona, Tucson.