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Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor among victims of Nairobi mall attack

September 22, 2013|By Carol J. Williams
  • Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor, shown in an undated photo provided by a family friend, was among the people who died in an attack by Somali Islamist militants at the a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor, shown in an undated photo provided…

Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, one of Africa's most distinguished literary figures, was among the scores of people killed by Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists who attacked a busy shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, over the weekend.

Awoonor, 78, was killed Saturday when members of Al Shabab, a Somali-based militia, seized the Westgate Shopping Mall in a hail of bullets in Kenya's worst terrorist attack in years.

"I am shocked to hear the death of professor Kofi Awoonor in the Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate," Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama said in a statement from Accra, Ghana's capital.

Awoonor's son was among the nearly 200 injured in the attack, the statement noted.

African and Middle Eastern news agencies said Awoonor was in Kenya for the 2013 Storymoja Hay Festival — an event celebrating the art of storytelling with readings, workshops and discussions. The festival, which began Thursday, was suspended after the mall shootings.

Born George Awoonor-Williams to ethnic Ewe parents, he studied at University College of Ghana and London's University College before earning his doctorate in comparative literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, according to a biography on the website of the Poetry Foundation.

He taught comparative literature at State University of New York at Stony Brook before returning to Ghana in 1975. He published his most significant works in the immediate post-independence period, including "The House by the Sea" (1978), which the biography said was influenced by the 10 months he spent in prison for alleged involvement in a coup.

Awoonor served as Ghana's ambassador to Brazil and Cuba in the 1980s, as well as United Nations envoy during the 1990-94 presidency of Jerry Rawlings.

He was also the author of "Rediscovery and Other Poems" (1964), "Night of My Blood" (1971), "Ride Me, Memory (1973), "The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook" (1992) and a volume of collected poems, "Until the Morning After" (1987).

Some of his poems can be found on Poetry Foundation Ghana's website.


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