The death of my uncle Kofi Awoonor in the Westgate mall attack was a profound personal loss, but his literary legacy will live on
I was 14 when I first read Kofi Awoonor’s novel, This Earth, My Brother. Its wonderfully musical prose, its immersion in Accra’s history, its obvious confidence in its place in the world, made me go to my father and ask about the other uncle.
I grew up with two writer uncles, Frank Kobina Parkes and Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor. Both were devotees of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, yet never let politics affect their personal relationships. I should know; my mother is the niece of General Ankrah – the man installed as leader when Nkrumah was overthrown. Such contradictions are the stuff great stories are made of.
The St Lucian poet Derek Walcott once wrote that tension creates memory and I suspect that is why I have always held Uncle Frank and Uncle Kofi so dear. Yet, I would add to Walcott’s assertion my own; absence creates myth. Frank was a treasured uncle; Kofi was a mythical one. It is almost not strange that a band of terrorists who have created their own mythical code in service to their perception of the message of the absent prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), were responsible for his departure.
The afternoon of 18 September 2013 at the Nairobi National Museum was my first meeting with Uncle Kofi. At the end of the Storymoja festival press conference, he hugged me: “Your father used to crack me up. I have stories to tell you.” Three days later, I was waiting at the festival to do a poetry reading alongside him – he never turned up. Close to midnight, the Ghana high commissioner in Kenya called to confirm that he had been killed in the Westgate mall attack.
My feeling of personal loss is profound, but, as a literary hero, Kofi Awoonor lives on. Absent heroes are powerful because their legacy is not influenced by them, we are drawn to the elements that resonate and that, ultimately, serve both hero and devotee best. Professor sleep well, we will meet on the other bank of the river.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663879/s/31ccda8a/sc/40/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cbooks0C20A130Csep0C280Ckofi0Eawoonor0Enii0Eparkes0Ehero/story01.htm