Outspoken... and a good listener
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
READ HARRY OWEN’S POETIC LICENCE COLUMN HERE: bit.ly/GrocArtist1
The late Keorapetse Kgositsie.