Kofi Awoonor, a well-loved Ghanaian poet, was killed and his son wounded at the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday. Awoonor, 78, was also a statesman — he served as Ghana's representative to the United Nation from 1990 to 1994. He was in Kenya for the Storymoja Hay literary festival.
Awoonor's friend, nephew, and fellow poet Kwame Dawes memorialized him in the Wall Street Journal Sunday. Dawes was visiting Nairobi with Awoonor at the time of the attack, but he was in the hotel when Awoonor was killed. Dawes wrote,
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.
Sadly, Awoonor did not make it to the next day of the festival. He was set to join poets Nii Parkes, Warsan Shire, Clifton Gachagua, and the novelist Teju Cole. Cole tweeted that there will be a memorial for Awoonor at 7 pm tonight at the National Museum in Nairobi.
Dawes notes that Awoonor had been tackling the subject of death in his recent poetry. He quotes a few lines, insisting, "I take comfort in the sheer beauty of this lyric, and in the fact that at some level, he may have been ready for what he had to face in that mall yesterday."
And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn
Awoonor's newest book, Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, is set to be published next year. You can read one of the poems here.