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'THE ORIGINAL LAST POET'-South Afrikan Revolutionary Poet Keorapetse KgositsileDocument Transcript
“THE ORIGINAL LAST POET”South Afrikan Revolutionary Poet Keorapetse Kgositsile
“THE ORIGINAL LAST POET”South Afrikan Revolutionary Poet Keorapetse KgositsileProf. Keorapetse Kgositsile
“THE ORIGINAL LAST POET”South Afrikan Revolutionary Poet Keorapetse KgositsileCHECK THE VIDEORELATED:The Last Poets-JAZZOETRY & MADE IN AMERIKKKA“A BRIEF BIO FOLLOWS”
1Keorapetse KgositsileKeorapetse WilliamKgositsileBorn 19 September 1938JohannesburgOccupation Poet and political activistNationality South AfricanKeorapetse William Kgositsile, also known as "Bra Willie" (born 19 September 1938) is a South African poet andpolitical activist. An influential member of the African National Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, he wasinaugurated as South Africas National Poet Laureate in 2006.Kgositsile lived in exile in the United States from1962 until 1975, the peak of his literary career. He made extensive study of African-American literature and culture,becoming particularly interested in jazz. During the 1970s he was a central figure among African-American poets,encouraging interest in Africa as well as the practice of poetry as a performance art; he was well known for hisreadings in New York City jazz clubs. Keorapetse was one of the first to bridge the gap between African poetry andBlack poetry in the United States, and thus one of the first and most significant poets in the Pan-African movement.Early lifeKgositsile was born in Johannesburg, and grew up in a small shack at the back of a house in a white neighborhood.His first experience of apartheid, other than having to go to school outside of his neighborhood for reasons he did notthen understand, was a conflict with a local white family after he fought a white friend of his who hesistated whenother friends refused to join a boxing club that denied Kgositsile membership.The experience was a formativeone, and joined with other experiences of exclusion that increased throughout his teenage years. For Kgositsile,adulthood meant an entrance into apartheid.Kgositsile attended Matibane High School in Johannesburg, as well as schools in other parts of the country. Duringthat time he was able (with some difficulty) to find books by Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and influencedby them as well as by European writers (principally Charles Dickens and D. H. Lawrence), he began writing stories,though not yet with any intention of doing so professionally.After working at a series of odd jobs after highschool, he took to writing more seriously, getting a job with the politically charged newspaper New Age. Hecontributed both reporting and poetry to the newspaper. These early poems, anticipating a lifetime of Kgositsileswork, combine lyricism with an unmuted call to arms, as in these lines from "Dawn":Remember in baton boot and bullet ritualThe bloodhounds of Monster Vorster wroteSOWETO over the belly of my landwith the indelible blood of infantsSo the young are no longer youngNot that they demand a hasty deathAny early interest in fiction was replaced by the sheer urgency of communication that Kgositsile felt. As he saidlater, "In a situation of oppression, there are no choices beyond didactic writing: either you are a tool of oppressionor an instrument of liberation."
Keorapetse Kgositsile 2The years of exileIn 1961, under considerable pressure both for himself and as part of a government effort to shut down New Age,Kgositile was urged by the African National Congress, of which he was a vocal member, to leave the country. Hewent initially to Dar es Salaam to write for Spearhead magazine (unrelated to the right-wing British magazine of thesame name),but the following year emigrated to the United States. He studied at a series of universities, beginningwith Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he "spent a lot of time in the library trying to read as much blackliterature as I could lay my hands on."After studying at the University of New Hampshire and The New School for Social Research, Kgositsile entered theMaster of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Columbia University. At the same time, he published his firstcollection of poems, Spirits Unchained. The collection was well received, and he was given a Harlem CulturalCouncil Poetry Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Award. He graduated from Columbia in 1971,and remained in New York, teaching and giving his characteristically dynamic readings in downtown clubs and aspart of the Uptown Black Arts Movement.Kgositsiles most influential collection, My Name is Afrika, waspublished in that year. The response, including an introduction to the book by Gwendolyn Brooks, establishedKgositsile as a leading African-American poet. The Last Poets, a group of revolutionary African-American poets,took their name from one of his poems.Influence of jazz and the black aestheticJazz was particularly important to Kgositsiles sense of black American culture and his own place in it. He saw JohnColtrane, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, B. B. King, and many others in the jazz clubs of New York, and wrote tothem and of them in his poems. Jazz was crucial to Kgositsiles most influential idea: his sense of a worldwideAfrican diaspora united by an ear for a certain quintessentially black sound. He wrote of the black aesthetic hepursued and celebrated:There is nothing like art—in the oppressors sense of art. There is only movement. Force. Creative power. Thewalk of Sophiatown tsotsi or my Harlem brother on Lenox Avenue. Field Hollers. The Blues. A Trane riff.Marvin Gaye or mbaqanga. Anguished happiness. Creative power, in whatever form it is released, moves likethe dancers muscles.Freedom from a constricting white aesthetic sensibility and the discovery of the rhythmic experience common toblack people of all the world were, for Kgositsiles, two sides of the same struggle.Black theatreKgositsile also became active in theater while in New York, founding the Black Arts Theatre in Harlem. He sawblack theater as a fundamentally revolutionary activity, whose ambition must be the destruction of the ingrainedhabits of thought responsible for perceptions of black people both by white people and by themselves. He wrote:We will be destroying the symbols which have facilitated our captivity. We will be creating and establishingsymbols to facilitate our necessary and constant beginning.The Black Arts Theatre was part of a larger project aimed at the creation of literary black voice unafraid to bemilitant. Kgositsile argued persistently against the idea of Négritude, a purely aesthetic conception of black culture,on the grounds that it was dependent on white aesthetic models of perception, a process he called "fornicating withthe white eye."This work took place while Kgositsile was teaching at Columbia in the earlier seventies; he left towork briefly at Black Dialogue Magazine.
Keorapetse Kgositsile 3Return to AfricaIn 1975, Kgositsile decided to return to Africa, despite his blossoming career in the United States, and took up ateaching position at the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. In 1978, he married another ANC exile, BalekaMbete, who was also living in Tanzania. Still from exile, he renewed his activities with the ANC, founding itsDepartment of Education in 1977 and its Department of Arts and Culture in 1983; he became Deputy Secretary in1987.Kgositsile taught at several schools in different parts of Africa, including Kenya, Botswana, and Zambia.Throughout this period he was banned in South Africa, but in 1990, the Congress of South African Writers(COSAW), with which he was already associated, decided to attempt a publication within the country. Thesuccessful result was When the Clouds Clear, a collection of poems from other volumes, which was Kgositsiles firstbook to be available in his native country."Your destination remains / Elusive"In July 1990, after 29 years in exile, Kgositsile returned to South Africa. He arrived in a country wholly differentfrom the one he had left, transformed by the beginning of the end of apartheid and the release and later the politicaltriumph of Nelson Mandela. In 1990, however, it was still a place of great confusion, particularly for the many exiledblack writers, artists, and intellectuals pouring into the country. In a 1991 essay, "Crossing Borders WithoutLeaving," Kgostitsile describes his first trip back to Johannesburg, where he was sponsored by COSAW: "Here aremy colleagues and hosts. Can you deal with that? Hosts! In my own country." But it is not his country anymore:"there are no memories here. The streets of Johannesburg cannot claim me. I cannot claim them either."Still, hereturned to the country as a kind of hero to young black writers and activists:Usually, when we met, there would be a little amused giggle or mischievous grin from them as we shookhands and hugged or kissed, depending on the gender. When I would want to find out what the joke was sothat we could share it if I also found it funny, one or several of them would recite some of my work, completewith the sound of my voice to the degree that had I heard the recitation without seeing who was reciting, Iwould probably have said, "Wonder when I recorded that."Despite that sense of distance from the country, he dove immediately back into politics and cultural activism, andwas quick to say that less had changed then should have: "there is the reality," he said in a 1992 interview, "that theSouth Africa that alienated black people to a very large extent still exists."Kgositsile was quick to criticize blackleaders as well as white for this status quo, accusing the ANC of "being criminally backward when it comes toquestions of culture and its place in society or struggle."In the early 1990s he served as vice president ofCOSAW, fostering the careers of young writers while continuing his steady critique of South African politics.Kgositsiles most recent poems are more conversational and perhaps less lyrical than his earlier work, and, comparedto his once-fiery nationalism, they are muted, and even skeptical. They speak of doubt rather than certainty, a doubtoften reinforced by rhythmical understatement, as in the short, uneven lines of "Recollections":Though you remainConvincedTo be aliveYou must have somewhereTo goYour destination remainsElusive.
Keorapetse Kgositsile 4Family and recent activitiesHis former wife Baleka Mbete is the former Deputy President of South Africa;his daughter Ipeleng (from hisprevious marriage to the late Melba Johnson Kgositsile) is a journalist and fiction writer who has written for Vibeand Essence magazines. His son, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile (His middle name was named after the poet PabloNeruda), is also known as the young hip-hop artist Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future.Keorapetse Kgositsile hasreturned to the United States several times, including a visiting professorship at the New School. He was a memberof the editorial board of This Day newspaper in Johannesburg, and remains one of the deans of contemporary SouthAfrican literature.In 2009 Bra Willie was part of the Beyond Words UK tour that also featured South African poets Don Mattera,Lesego Rampolokeng, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and Lebo Mashile (presented by Apples & Snakes in associationwith Sustained Theatre, funded by the British Council South Africa, Arts Council England and the South Africangovernment).AwardsThe many literary awards he has received include the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the Harlem Cultural CouncilPoetry Award, the Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Poetry Award, the Herman Charles Bosman Prize.In 2008, Kgositsile was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga Silver (OIS) "For excellent achievements in thefield of literature and using these exceptional talents to expose the evils of the system of apartheid to theworld."BibliographyPoetry collections• Spirits Unchained. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969.• For Melba. Chicago: Third World Press, 1970.• My Name is Afrika. New York: Doubleday, 1971.• Places and Bloodstains: Notes for Ipeleng. Oakland, California: Achebe Publications, 1975.• The Present is a Dangerous Place to Live. Chicago: Third World Press, 1975. 2nd ed. 1993.• When the Clouds Clear. Johannesburg: Congress of South African Writers, 1990.• To the Bitter End. Chicago: Third World Press, 1995.• If I Could Sing: Selected Poems. Roggebaai, South Africa: Kwela Books, and Plumstead, South Africa:Snailpress, 2002.• This Way I Salute You. Cape Town: Kwela Books, and Snailpress, 2004.Other books• The Word Is Here: Poetry from Modern Africa. New York: Anchor, 1973.• Approaches to Poetry Writing. Chicago: Third World Press, 1994.Further reading• Rowell, Charles H. (1978). "‘With Bloodstains to Testify’: An Interview with Keorapetse Kgositsile". Callaloo(2): 23–42. JSTOR 2930769.• Goddard, Kevin, and Wessels, Charles, eds, Out of Exile: South African Writers Speak, Grahamstown: NationalEnglish Literary Museum, 1992, pp. 79–91.
Keorapetse Kgositsile 5Notes Podcast with Poet Laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile by Victor Dlamini, Books Live, 12 August 2008. (http://victordlamini.bookslive.co.za/blog/2008/08/12/podcast-with-poet-laureate-keorapetse-kgositsile/) Charles H. Rowell, "‘With Bloodstains to Testify’: An Interview with Keorapetse Kgositsile", Callaloo, issue 2, 1978, p. 23. Rowell, p. 24. Rowell, p. 27. "Dawn", New Age Vol. 9, No. 2, 15 (http://disa.nu.ac.za/articledisplaypage.asp?articletitle=New+Age&filename=Dav9n285) . Quoted in Kgositsile, Keorapetse (http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9045234) Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 25January 2006. Rowell, 28. Snyder, Greg, "Lifes Truth Aesthetically Interpreted: Greg Synder Talks With Keorapetse Kgositsile" (http://www.newschool.edu/tcds/twenone.htm). New School for Social Research, Bulletin # 21, Vol. 6, no. 2, 1995. Quoted in "Towards our Theatre: A Definitive Act," quoted in "Paths to the Future," quoted in Kgositsile, "Crossing Borders Without Leaving" (Staffrider Vol. 4, No. 2 , 5–10), 6. "Crossing Borders" 10. Achmat Dangor, Interview with Keorapetse Kgositsile, 20 February 1992, in Kevin Goddard and Charles Wessels (eds), Out of Exile: SouthAfrican Writers Speak, Grahamstown: National English Literary Museum, 1992, p. 81. Dangor, p. 84. "Baleka Mbete: The friendly first lady with claws of an alley cat" (http://www.thetimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Article.aspx?id=847687),The Times of New Zealand, 21 September 2008. Thompson, Nicholas. (2009-01-07) News Desk: Looking for Earl Sweatshirt (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/05/free-earl-sweatshirt-odd-future.html). The New Yorker. Retrieved on 2011-08-16. National Order Recipients 2008, South African History Online. (http://www.sahistory.org.za/technology/national-orders-recipients-2008) "KZN icons to be honoured by Presidency", The Witness, 21 Oct 2008. (http://www.witness.co.za/index.php?showcontent&global[_id]=15098) Mariechen Waldner, "Honouring SA’s heroes", City Press, 3 November 2008. (http://22.214.171.124/argief/berigte/citypress/2008/11/03/CP/10/mwcongratulations.html) http://www.jstor.org/stable/2930769External links• Biography and selected poems from Poetry International (http://southafrica.poetryinternational.org/cwolk/view/21495)• Author information page from Kwela Books (http://www.nb.co.za/Kwela/kAuthorCV.asp?iAuthor_id=270)
Article Sources and Contributors 6Article Sources and ContributorsKeorapetse Kgositsile Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=551867151 Contributors: Adriaan, Arthena, Batesmotel44, Bearcat, Blameless, C777, Cbustapeck, Chick Bowen, D6,Dl2000, Gaius Cornelius, GiantSnowman, Gobonobo, Htonl, Iopensa, Ja A. Jahannes, Jraytram, Maickellz, Mark Arsten, Materialscientist, NJZombie, Proscribe, Proscript, Rjwilmsi,Sarumanatee, Shadowjams, Shadzane, WillyTheDinosaur, 50 anonymous editsLicenseCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported//creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/