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Famous writer, poet, Gabriel Okara, dies at 97

Yenagoa – One of Nigeria’s foremost and famous writers, poets and novelists, Dr Gabriel Okara, is dead.

Gabriel Okara

Okara who is from Boumadi, in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa, died at Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Yenagoa on Sunday.

The legendary poet and novelist who was a lifelong Patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) died at the age of 97 years and a month to his 98th birthday.

A family member, who pleaded anonymity, said Okara was relaxing at his Yenagoa residence when he slumped about 4p.m. on Sunday.

He said the head of the Okara family has sent a text message out for an emergency meeting, and the family would issue a formal statement afterwards.

Meanwhile, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Bayelsa State Chapter, in a statement by its chairman, Mrs Bina Ilagha, said the association was sadden by the news of the death.

“The Association is ruffled by the news because it came at a time when preparations are in top gear to celebrate his masterpiece, ‘’The Voice’’ at 55.

“We are saddened by the news but are consoled that he left behind lofty legacies. Pa Okara, through his literary exploits put Bayelsa in the map of literary excellence,” he said.

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Also, the speech writer to the Governor of Bayelsa, and one time Chairman of ANA, Mr Michael Afenfia, in a statement in Yenagoa expressed sadness about the death.

“It is with great sadness that I received the news of the passing of the renowned poet and novelist, Gabriel Okara. Even in passing, I am sure your poem, “Piano and Drums”, will ‘minister’ to me in many ways.

“Your words are an inspiration! Your concerns about the African culture in the face of Western ‘threat’ as expressed in “Once Upon a Time” are ever before me.

“Thank you for leaving us with so much to remember of your time here with us. Thank you for setting the pace for several generations of writers,” he said.

Gabriel Imomotimi Okara (born 24 April 1921) is a Nigerian poet and novelist who was born in Bumoundi in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria.

The first Modernist poet of Anglophone Africa, he is best known for his early experimental novel, The Voice (1964), and his award-winning poetry, The Fisherman’s Invocation (1978) and The Dreamer, His Vision (2005).

In both his poems and his prose, Okara draws on African thought, religion, folklore and imagery and he has been called “the Nigerian Negritudist”.

According to Brenda Marie Osbey, editor of his Collected Poems, “It is with publication of Gabriel Okara’s first poem that Nigerian literature in English and modern African poetry in this language can be said truly to have begun.”

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