Kenya mall attack claimed life of poet and diplomat Kofi Awoonor

Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor is among those confirmed dead in an attack at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
(Kofi Anyidoho / AFP/Getty Images)

Kofi Awoonor, poet and diplomat from Ghana, was slain during the Kenya mall attack. The seige of the Nairobi mall by an Al Qaeda-linked Somalia militia began on Sept. 20 and is currently ongoing. A total of 62 people have been killed, including three assailants.

Awoonor was in Kenya for the 2013 Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day long celebration the art of storytelling that was suspended after the mall shootings. He had been asked to participate in the festival by Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, who remembered him in the Wall Street Journal.

“It had been a few years since I had last seen him in Ghana. We embraced. We laughed a lot, sharing witty and biting jokes in sotto voce during an often-amusing press conference. That afternoon he gave hope and encouragement to so many poets and writers who gathered to hear him offer a master class for poets. He did not make the next session.”


Awoonor was born in Ghana to ethnic Ewe parents; he studied writing in London and New York. He returned to Ghana in the 1970s, where he was involved in many aspects of culture, including film, poetry, theater and comparitive literature. Like many prominent intellectuals of his generation -- he was born in 1935 -- he was involved with politics as well as culture.

He was tried and found guilty of subversion during a military regime and imprisoned for almost a year. He went on to become Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil, Cuba and the United Nations.

He is best known for his books “This Earth My Brother” and “The House by the Sea.“

About his poetry, Dawes wrote: “Awoonor’s verse is distinguished by its almost seamless combination of the syntax, cadence, and posture of the traditional Ewe poetic tradition, and the lyric concerns of modernist poetry. His confidence in his Ewe voice and culture made him more likely to reshape English prosody than for English prosody to alter him.”


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