Muthoni Garland, CEO of Storymoja on the Tribute evening for Prof. Kofi Awoonor last night

Muthoni Garland, CEO of Storymoja on the Tribute evening for Prof. Kofi Awoonor last night

The tribute last night at the museum was moving, so in keeping with the depth, height, breadth and weight of the late professor’s writing. The siege at Westgate is still ongoing and a climate of fear permeates the air, but about 150 people showed up. Love and respect were palpable in the room. Two of Professor Awoonor’s  sons, his daughter and niece, the Ghanaian High Commission and several Ghanaians came. We sang the Kenyan and Ghanaian national anthems. Most of us read from his works, many of which are elegies, hauntingly beautiful funeral songs inspired by his Ewe traditions. Kwame Dawes’ and John Sibi-Okumu’s tributes moved us to sorrow-tinged laughter.  Tears threatened to overcome Nii Parkes, Paula Kahumbu and Warsan Shire during their tributes. Several others read from Professor Awoonor’s work including the Occupy Nairobi poets, Teju Cole, Michael Onsando, Aghan Odero of the Kenya Cultural Centre, Njeri Wangari who served as MC, and Binyavanga and Billy Kahora of Kwani, myself (Muthoni Garland) and others.
One of the outcomes of his passing is a surge of interest in Professor Awoonor’s work –  younger poets, in particular, demand we get his work to Kenya. The irony is that Africa is where is it most difficult to access books by Africans, even the most prominent! The Ghanaian High Commissioner said to me, “Next year, I will bring you more writers from my country. That is what Kofi Awoonor would have wanted.”  Auma Obama not only sent a tribute that we read, but she also confirmed that she is ready to be our next Storymoja Hay Festival Director to rally our spirits and ensure that the greater cause is not buried under by this tragedy. Nii Parkes, Teju Cole, Atinuke and Jenny Valentine insist they want to be on the SMHF programme next year. As Aleya Kassam said, “Just when we were feeling way too overwhelmed to imagine continuing on this journey, it seems we must.”