Source: Wanjeri Gakuru
Storymoja Hay Festival organizers held a memorial tribute at the Louis Leakey Auditorium in Nairobi on Monday night, to celebrate the life and works of Ghanaian poet and diplomat, Professor Kofi Awoonor.
The bard was in the country to participate in the annual literary festival when he met an untimely death at the hands of terrorists in a siege on the Westgate Mall in Kenya’s capital.
Reading from his wide array of work were visiting writers and poets including Warsan Shire and Teju Cole. Additionally, members of Kenyan’s literary community Paula Kahumbu, John Sibi-Okumu, Billy Kahora, Binyavanga Wainaina as well as festival organizers Muthoni Garland and Aleya Kassam, also recited choice poems from Prof. Awoonor’s stirring collection.
The Professor was most noted for his poetry inspired by the oral tradition of the Ewe people, to which he belonged. Much of his best work was published in Ghana’s immediate post-independence period, part of which he spent in exile after the first president and post-colonial icon Kwame Nkrumah, to whom Awoonor was close, was overthrown in a coup.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment during the memorial was hearing from two of Ghana’s leading poets, Kwame Dawes and Nii Parkes.
Kwame, whose father was best friends with the late bard, shared anecdotes about their time together, recalling how Prof. Awoonor comforted him at the time of his own father’s passing.
Nii, a great admirer of the professor, freely broke into tears as he spoke about the influence the late professor had on his writing.
Professor Awonoor’s family were also present, including two sons and a niece. One son, Afetsi who was with his father during the attack, wore an arm-sling due to a gunshot wound.
“We are devastated by the loss of Professor Awoonor, but hope must prevail. Although we miss him, we are stronger because during his life’s journey, he so generously shared his wisdom with us,” said Storymoja founder, Muthoni Garland.
The auditorium was visibly moved when a sound clip from Professor Awooner’s Poetry Masterclass held at the beginning of the festival was played.
Relayed over a slideshow of images from the same event, the voice of the 79-year-old teacher and activist could be heard. He spoke about being unafraid of death. The memorial ended with a word of prayer and lighting of candles outside the auditorium.