Literature:Kofi Awoonor… In Their Mind



Tomorrow, September 21, marks the third anniversary of terrorist shooting at Kenya’s Westgate Mall that felled one of Ghana’s literary icons Prof. Kofi Awonoor while attending Storymoja Hay Festival. And the literary world remembers. Not least is his former student Gloria Addo-Safo, who contributes this piece from Accra, Ghana
LOCATION: University of Ghana, Legon; Semester: 1; Year: 2008/09; Day: Wednesdays, Time: 5:30 – 7:30pm. Venue: One lecture room in a department; Subject: Creative Writing.

I entered the half-filled class at 5:00pm. I was in such a rush to get to this particular lecture. This man! I had heard his name. I had read his work. A simple art he made it seem.

My favourite is The Cathedral. Read it once and you did not need a second read. I was keen to know how he did it. How he spun simple words around to make such beautiful fabric of words, pleasant to every ear it reached.

A dozen eyes met mine, all enthusiastic to learn what I also wanted to know. I was surprised. I thought, “Really! Are you all thinking as I am…?” I took my seat at the back of the class. There, a couple of students I had met in a previous class joined me. We discussed our expectations as we waited with eager eyes and ears to learn everything we could from the master.

Finally, it was 5:30pm. There was a knock on the door. I wondered who would knock on an opened door! Alas it was him. The master himself. We were not sure whether to stand and greet as we did in primary school or wait for a word. Before we could find our tongue, he spoke, quite in a low tone.
“Is this the CREATIVE ART CLASS,” he asked?
“Yes!” we chorused, excited to begin our tutelage under the great master. We dared not blink when he spoke. Who knew what we could miss. It was too expensive to miss this opportunity to learn at such fine feet. I, in particular, was humbled. With rapt attention, we devoured the master at his every speech. Our apprenticeship had just begun.

We introduced ourselves. What happened next, I do not remember, but one thing was clear that day, we could not have enough of him.
Soon it was 7:40. We had gone past our scheduled time. No one wanted to be the one to burst that bubble, that sweet bubble.

We went back to our hostels with an assignment, “Give me a pen-portrait of yourself,” he had asked. I guessed immediately why he wanted to have this.

I could not wait to tell my roomies about my class. And as I lay in bed that night, I couldn’t wait for our next meeting. I also thought of what I would write for the fine master. I wondered if he would appreciate my skill. Slowly, my eyes closed.

I could wait for eternity to get to class today. I shrugged to get myself into that room that had become my shrine and my workshop. We were parting today.

The master organized a small party just for us. He entered the class with a bottle of wine in hand. There was a party in the class, but no party in my heart. We would part today.
I was not sure if ever I would meet him in person again. That man! That master, who taught me to write; who taught me that writing was not just ink on paper, but a song to the soul.

AND then I heard the news as it was told to me by my friend. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and imagined the master, sitting in his lazy-boy chair, sipping on a glass of wine after a cold shower, with my song in hand.

I had the hope of singing this song of the soul when the sun rose one day, but even if I have the lyrics, even if I had a rhythm, even if I had a song, who would listen? Where would my master be, to hear the song he taught me to sing.

Prof. Kofi Awonoor, you taught me well. May your soul ignite the flames to the songs in our heart to sing. And as we sing, hear us and know that wherever you are, you have taught us to sing our own song; the song of Africa.

Rest in peace, great master!

* Gloria Addo-Safo studied under the late Prof. Awoonor at University of Ghana, Legon; she currently works with Kwadwoan Publishing Ltd, Accra, Ghana

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