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Season of death in writers’ village

BY MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU

Last week was indeed, a very bad week for the tribe of Nigerian writers. The week came with the death of three significant writers and scholars. First, was the announcement of the death of Ossie Onuora Enekwe, a retired professor of Dramatic Literature from the University of Nigeria.

His death was immediately followed by that of ailing Octogenarian novelist, Timothy Aluko. As the tribe was trying to recover from the shock of the previous two death, on Monday, again, news filtered in from faraway Europe about another promising scholar, playwright and poet, Esiaba Irobi, who was said to have also passed on in a German hospital.

The late Enekwe spent his teaching years nurturing and producing talented scholars, writers, poets and dramatists. Significantly, he was a key driver in the development of what used to be the Sub Department of Dramatic Art to becoming a full fledged and accredited Department of Theatre Art.

Apart from taking over the editorship of Okike journal of the arts founded by Chinua Achebe, Enekwe, who proved his mettle both in the other areas of imaginative compositions including poetry, short story writing and music ,also pioneered interesting scholarly interventions in such areas as  theatre criticisms and theorizations.

Like I have argued elsewhere, Enekwe’s seminal publication; Igbo Mask: The Oneness of Ritual… remains not only an important and most exhaustive study of the potentials of the Igbo dramatic form, but also the most significant response to MJC Echeruo’s Aristotelean model for Igbo performance arts, which he conceptualized in his own no doubt, important essay, The Dramatic Limit of Igbo Ritual.

Enekwe’s achievements as a polyvalent scholar are out there for the public to see. It is perhaps on the strength of his contributions to the engaging filed of scholarship and the arts that University of Benin erudite scholar, Tony Afejuku and Professor of English, sent to Sunday arts a text reaction about Enekwe’s demise.

“Ossie Onuora Enekwe, Professor of Dramatic Literature, former National Vice President, Association of Nigerian Authors, past editor, Okike International Journal of the Arts, was an exceptional and an all round scholar. He was very much at home in all the genres. He was a remarkable poet, an exceptional short story- writer, a pain-staking editor, an alert critic of integrity, a first rate dramatist/playwright, a thorough musician who could play the guiter and sing and sing melodiously and was pertinently praise named” Ossie Melody.”

“ Simply put, Prof. Enekwe was an ambidextrous man of letters- a worthy literary administrator and a gentleman of unquantifiable integrity.” He said.

The other writer Esiaba Irobi  studied at the universities of Nigeria, Sheffield, Leeds and holds a B.A. in English/Drama, M.A. Comparative Literature, M.A. Film/Theatre, and a Ph.D. in Theatre Studies. His play, Cemetery Road, won the prestigious World Drama Trust Award for playwriting in 1992. His other published plays include Hangmen Also Die, The Colour of Rusting Gold, Nwokedi, Why the Vultures Head is Naked, What Song do Mosquitoes Sing? and the recently finished Foreplay  commissioned by the  Royal Court Theatre in London.

He has directed numerous plays and productions in Ireland, Hungary, USA, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, England, Nigeria, Portugal and Scotland. He was also one of the most sought after workshop leaders in the world today.  His forthcoming books include Theorizing the Cinema of Africa and African Diaspora: Ontology, Teleology, Semiology and  Narratology (Routledge, London, 2005) and Before They Danced in Chains: Performance Theories of Africa and the African Diaspora ( Harvard University Press, 2006) and a new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest titled ‘The Shipwreck’ commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Theatre, USA. He has just completed a very exciting book of poetry: Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin published by Milton and London: Nsibidi Africana Publishers,  in Boston, Massachusetts , USA, and  will be running his popular Acting for the International Stage Workshops  for Professional Actors in London, Paris, Budapest, Barbados  and Ottawa  later on in the year.

On hearing about Irobi’s death, Dr Sunny Awhefeada of the Delta State University, Abaraka extolled the moving power of Irobi’s creative imagination.” My God! This is another death too many! Last week, it was Enekwe, now, It is Esiaba Irobi, from the same Nsukka Schol! Irobi was a fantastic writer. We read his poetry as first year students in UNIBEN in 1992. I also taught his revolutionary play , Nwokedi to my first year student in DELSU. Nigerian literature has lost a gem.

While Irobi, according to unconfirmed report is said to have died from cancer related ailment, Enekwe was also said to have died from complications resulting from hypertension.


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