National iconic poet, Prof Atukwei Okai dies at age 77

| Updated Jul 14, 2018 at 4:24am


A renowned Ghanaian poet, cultural activist and academic and author, Prof. Atukwei Okai has died in Accra, at age 77. This was in a statement issued by Professor Akilakpa Sawyer on behalf of the family and copied to GBCONLINE in Acccra on Friday, July 13, 2018. The statement said he, died at the Korle Bu Teaching hospital on Friday following a short illness.


Ghana’s iconic poet Prof Atukwei Okai was born on March 15, 1941 in Accra, Prof. Atukwei Okai was Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers' Association, and former president of the Ghana Association of Writers.

Prof Atukwei Okai won a great number of honours both locally and internationally during his illustrious career, and was in June 2007, awarded the national award of Member of the Order of the Volta.

His early work was published under the name John Okai.

With his poems rooted in the oral tradition, he is generally acknowledged to have been the first real performance poets to emerge from Africa, and his work has been called "also politically radical and socially conscious, one of his great concerns being Pan-Africanism".

His performances on radio and television worldwide include an acclaimed 1975 appearance at Poetry International at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, where he shared the stage with US poets Stanley Kunitz and Robert Lowell, and Nicolas Guillen of Cuba.

Okai was educated at the Gambaga Native Authority School, Nalerigu Middle Boys' School, and then at Methodist Middle Boys' School in Accra and Accra High School.

In 1961, he went on a scholarship from the government of the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to Moscow, where he earned his M.A. (Litt.) from the Gorky Literary Institute in 1967.

Okai returned home a year after the 1966, coup which saw the overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah.

He and other Ghanaian students who had studied in the Soviet Union were not welcomed by the new regime and had difficulty finding employment.

He recalls: "It was a most despondent time of my life.... I was already a writer and broadcaster of some note before I went to the Soviet Union. It galled greatly that those of us that went to study in the former Eastern Bloc were tarred by the general suspicion attached to socialism in those days. We were not politicians and we did not get our scholarships on our political affiliations. We were young Ghanaians with passion to help build the country."

He nevertheless honoured invitations from schools and colleges, such as Wesley Girls' High School, and Adisadel College in Cape Coast, and Achimota School, to give performances of his work, which had a memorable impact on the young students.

Okai subsequently took up a post-graduate scholarship from the University of Ghana to pursue studies in the UK, earning his Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) degree in 1971 from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London, which is today part of University College London.

He began teaching at the University of Ghana, Legon, in 1971 as lecturer in Russian literature at the Department of Modern Languages, and in 1984 became Senior Research Fellow in African Literature at the Institute of African Studies.

He also was a head of the GaDangbe department of Education at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana.

In 1989 he was elected the first Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers' Association (PAWA), which position he held till his demise; his pioneering role at PAWA was recognized by the Entertainment Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana (ECRAG), who in 1991 presented him with their highest award, the Flagstar, the first time that this award has gone to a writer.

He was survived by his wife, Beatrice, and five daughters.

Early life and education was culled from wikipedoa