Nigerian literary giant, Gabirel Okara, known as the first English language African writer, passed away in his sleep in Port Harcourt on Monday. He was two months shy of his 98th birthday.
Okara, referred to as the “Nigerian Negritudist,” for his involvement in the Francophone-led intellectual movement, rose to prominence in 1964, following the release of his celebrated debut novel, The Voice, an experimental book in which he translated his native language of Ijaw into English. He was also a poet, playwright and a scriptwriter for national broadcasts. According to The Sun, many of Okara’s manuscripts were lost during the Nigerian Civil War.
The writer was born on April 24 1922 in the present-day Bayelsa State of Nigeria, He went on to study journalism at Northwestern University in 1949, before discovering his talent for poetry in 1953 when he won an award at the Nigerian Festival of Arts for his poem The Call of the River Nun, according to BBC Africa.
Amongst his most celebrated poems are Piano and Drums, You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed, and The Fisherman’s Invocation.
His death is a major loss to the African literary world, and the second this month following the passing of the prolific Ivorian writer Bernard Dadié, a leader in the negritude movement