Leading African Poet Passes Away

By Prairie Schooner Newsletter
Published January 7, 2018

Keorapetse Kgositsile and Safiya Sinclair at the African Poetry Today at the Ford Foundation in 2016Keorapetse Kgositsile, a leading poet and activist from South Africa, has died on January 3, 2018. He was 79.

Kgositsile is one of the great poets of the 20th and 21st centuries, known for bridging the gap between African poetry and Black poetry in the United States of America.

Kgositsile’s writing career began in the early 1960s, when he started writing for New Age, an anti-Apartheid newspaper in South Africa’s commercial capital, Johannesburg.

By 1962, Kgositsile was forced into exile in the United States, where he published ‘Spirits Unchained’ and ‘My Name Is Afrika’, his first two poetry collections.

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Kgositsile returned to Africa in 1975, where he was a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Kgositsile returned to South Africa the day before Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 and shortly thereafter began working as an advisor to the minister of arts and culture. He was named South African Poet Laureate in 2006.

Of Kgositsile’s passing, South African president Jacob Zuma remarked, “Today our country mourns the sad passing of one of the giants of our liberation struggle who was renowned for his accomplishments in education, arts, and culture.”

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Our sister organisation, the African Poetry Book Fund, has treasured not only Kgositsile’s influence but also his friendship. We were thrilled to feature him in our 2016 African Poetry Today event at the Ford Foundation. We also hope to one day help bring into the world Kgositsile’s Collected Poems, and will continue working toward that goal.

As we mourn Keorapetse Kgositsile’s passing, we honour his greatness and remain steadfast in our aim to celebrate the incredible range of African poetic arts, a deep tradition that Kgositsile so powerfully embodied throughout his life.

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