Kofi Awoonor-Williams

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, and was also published as Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor. 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.

George Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor-Williams was born in Wheta, in the Volta region of what was then the Gold Coast, present-day Ghana. He was the eldest of 10 children in the family. He was a paternal descendant of the Awoonor-Williams family of Sierra Leone Creole descent. He was educated at Achimota School and then proceeded to the University of Ghana, graduating in 1960. 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. His early works were inspired by the singing and verse of his native Ewe people, and he later published translations of the work of three Ewe dirge singers (Guardians of the Sacred Word: Ewe Poetry, 1973). Awoonor managed the Ghana Film Corporation and helped to found the Ghana Playhouse, going on to have a significant role in developing theatre and drama in the country. He was also an editor of the literary journal Okyeame and an associate editor of Transition Magazine.

He studied literature at University College London (M.A., 1970), and while in England wrote many plays for the BBC radio. 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, y Brother and Night of My Blood, both books published in 1971.

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; Awoonor was later released when his sentence was remitted in October 1976. The House by the Sea is about his time in jail. After imprisonment, he became politically active. He continued to write mostly non-fiction.

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, the main advisory body to the president of Ghana, serving in that position from 2009 to January 2013.

Cinema Culture Society of Ghana

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