Outspoken... and a good lis­tener

Grocott's Mail - - ARTSLIFE - By HARRY OWEN

Ke­o­rapetse Kgosit­sile, South Africa’s much-loved Poet Lau­re­ate (the sec­ond, af­ter Mazisi Kunene) died at the be­gin­ning of Jan­uary. Here is part of his Wikipedia en­try:

Ke­o­rapetse Wil­liam Kgosit­sile (19 Septem­ber 1938 – 3 Jan­uary 2018), also known by his pen name Bra Wil­lie, was a South African poet and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist. An in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of the African Na­tional Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, he was in­au­gu­rated as South Africa’s Na­tional Poet Lau­re­ate in 2006. Kgosit­sile lived in ex­ile in the United States from 1962 un­til 1975, the peak of his lit­er­ary ca­reer. He made an ex­ten­sive study of African-Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture, be­com­ing par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in jazz.

Dur­ing the 1970s he was a cen­tral fig­ure among AfricanAmer­i­can po­ets, en­cour­ag­ing in­ter­est in Africa as well as the prac­tice of po­etry as a per­for­mance art; he was well known for his read­ings in New York City jazz clubs. Kgosit­sile was one of the first to bridge the gap be­tween African po­etry and Black po­etry in the United States.

What this sum­mary does not men­tion is the easy charm, the dis­arm­ing smile and sheer charisma of Bra Wil­lie. He was a warm and en­gag­ing man, friendly and wel­com­ing to all peo­ple, and when he read his po­etry aloud no one was left un­moved by the vi­brancy and power of his voice. He was al­ways outspoken and can­did in his sup­port for or­di­nary peo­ple but was never ag­gres­sive or ar­ro­gant. And he was a good lis­tener, gen­er­ous with help­ful ad­vice and sup­port for young or in­ex­pe­ri­enced writ­ers.

The last time I spoke with him was back in 2011 here in Gra­ham­stown when, with poet and ed­i­tor Phillippa Yaa De Vil­liers, he launched a mul­ti­lin­gual African po­etry an­thol­ogy called No Seren­ity Here. The book takes its ti­tle from one of Bra Wil­lie’s po­ems in the book. This short ex­tract re­minds us that he was also an ac­tivist, not just an empty word­smith and it is – along with his smile – how I will best re­mem­ber him: again I say, while I still have voice, re­mem­ber, al­ways re­mem­ber that you are what you do, past any say­ing of it


The late Ke­o­rapetse Kgosit­sie.

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