Below, the opening of Kwame Dawes’ article on Kofi Awoonor from Speakeasy Magazine. You can read the full article here.
NAIROBI, Kenya–I will travel to Ghana to be present at the burial of Kofi Awoonor. I will because he is a great Ghanaian poet. I will because he is a remarkable African thinker and mentor. I will because he traveled to Jamaica from Ghana to bury my father, his dear friend and mentor, in 1984. I will because he is my uncle, my mother’s cousin.
Last night, I received news that Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet, diplomat and academic had been shot to death by terrorists in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. I got the news in my hotel, which is about five minutes from the mall. The news came through diplomatic channels in Ghana. “Barring a miracle, we have lost him. Get some sleep, we have a long wake ahead.” This was the note his protégé and fellow Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho, sent to me. The Ghanaian ambassador to Kenya and Awoonor’s son later went to identify the body.
Kofi Awoonor and I were in Nairobi for the Storymoja Hay Festival. I had asked him to attend the festival to help celebrate some new initiatives in African poetry that I was spearheading, and his new book, “Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” is to be the lead book of the new African Poetry Book Series to appear early next year.
He agreed to come and join poets like Nii Parkes, Warsan Shire, Clifton Gachagua, and novelist Teju Cole for Storymoja Hay Festival, a literary festival held each year in Nairobi.
I saw him a day earlier than that fateful day. 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. The final day of the festival was cancelled, and our final session for Sunday that was to focus on Poetry and Activism was cancelled.