Professor Kofi Awoonor (13 March, 1935- 21, September, 2013), was a Ghanaian poet and author whose work combined poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonisation.
He started writing under the name George Awoonor-Williams. Prof Awoonor was among those who were killed in the September 21, 2013 terrorist attack at Westgate Shopping Mall, Nairobi, Kenya, by the Al-Shabaab militant group.
He was born in Ghana when it was still called the Gold Coast. He went to university here and later taught African literature at the University of Ghana. While at the University of Ghana he wrote his first poetry book, Rediscovery, published in 1964.
Like the rest of his work, Rediscovery is based on African oral poetry. In Ghana he managed the Ghana Film Corporation and founded the Ghana Play House. His early works were inspired by the singing and verse of his native Ewe people.
He then studied literature at the University of London, and while in England he wrote several radio plays for the BBC. He spent the early 1970s in the United States of America (USA), studying and teaching at universities. While in the USA he wrote This Earth, My Brother, and My Blood.
Prof Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 as Head of the English Department at the University of Cape Coast. Within months he was arrested for helping a soldier, accused of trying to overthrow the military government, and was imprisoned without trial but he was later released.
After imprisonment, Prof Awoonor became politically active and wrote mostly non-fiction. From 1990 to 1994 Awoonor was Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations where he headed the committee against apartheid. He was also a former chairman of the Council of State.
Awoonor was among those killed in the September 21, 2013 terrorist attack by Al-Shabaab at Westgate Shopping Mall, Nairobi, Kenya. He was in Nairobi as a participant in the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling.
He was due to perform on that Saturday evening before his death. His son was also shot, but was later discharged from hospital.
His poetry works include; Rediscovery and Other Poems (1964), Night of My Blood (1971) – poems that explore Awoonor’s roots, and the impact of foreign rule in Africa, The House By the Sea (1978) Novels, This Earth, My Brother (1971) – a cross between a novel and a poem, Comes the Voyager at Last (1992).