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Mohamed  Sheriff  has won several playwright contests  organized 

by the B.B.C.  His name seems like one to be watched

as he has demonstrated consistently strong signs of promise.



The Situation of the Literary Arts in Sierra Leone

By Arthur  Edgar E Smith


Before Sierra Leone independence in 1961, literature was seen largely through the medium of newspapers of which the famous Weekly News was the most prominent.  It was almost like a literary journal, though printed in the form of a newspaper.  Sawyer’s Bookshop at Water Street also played a vital role as not only making wide selections of literary works from the Western world available, but in also publishing small pamphlets and little books from time to time.

At that time clubs flourished and many of them had literary activities as part of their programme. Clubs like the City Literary Institute and Greenfield Club organized lectures and dramatic shows. The Greenfield Club was aimed particularly at promoting literary activities.  The Eccentric Society (a Multiracial group) organized periodic "mind-uplifting" concerts. However, many of these clubs were short lived. According to historical analysts this was due to the majority of Creoles lacking interest in self-improvement and the disunity that was then prevailing within the ranks of the upper level of Freetown society.  This was limited to a few hundred people from whose ranks many of the other clubs drew their membership.  With this sort of close-knitted society, personal disagreements were easily brought into the open  thus disrupting harmony  and leading to their break up.

It could then be deduced that literary activities then were more or less of an academic and philosophical or religious nature. Seldom were genuine literary efforts displayed.  This scenario was transferred to the production of books.  Many of the books were more of  textbooks or dissertations/theses. One of the first written works by a Sierra Leonean in 1865 reflected this concern.  It was the work of the medico James Africanus Beale Horton on the Political Economy of British West Africa. His second book three years later in 1868 was West African Countries and People, British and Native (1868).  This was like many of the other works published in London. Being one of the most prolific writers, James Africanus Horton, wrote books and pamphlets on politics, science, and medicine while he was a medical officer in the British army between 1857 and 1871. [These books included The Dawn of Nationalism in Modern Africa, reprint 1969; Black Nationalism in Africa, 1867, reprint 1969.]

There was also A.B.C. Sibthorpe’s monumental historical work on Freetown [The History of Sierra Leone, reprint 1971]. There were also 19th-century works on exploration by such Sierra Leoneans as Samuel Crowther, a bishop of the Anglican Protestant faith, and another clergyman, John Christopher Taylor. There has thus been an incipient literary tradition developing in Freetown since the 19th century.

Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (left)

This is what must have led to the clearly creative and literary output during this period of writers like Adelaide Casely-Hayford and Gladys Casely-Hayford. Gladys Casely-Hayford was perhaps the best-known  from this period.  Some of her poems and stories have appeared in American and British publications and are still been included in recent anthologies compiled in the West. Amongst her poems have been one written in Krio which she published in a small book of poetry, Take Am So in Freetown in 1948.

The Educationist Mrs. Adelaide Casely-Hayford (nee Smith) wrote stories following the traditions of Ghanaian writers like Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo. The most popular of these is “Mister Courifer” which is part of Paul Geoffrey Edwards’ anthology West  African Narrative; an anthology for schools  which was widely used in Freetown schools in the early 60s.  This concern for culture is even seen in her work in the educational field.  According to historian, Akintola Wyse, after studying in England and Germany and returning home she was so appalled by the system of  education for  women that she devoted her whole life to introducing a system that gave an important place to African customs, arts and crafts amongst others. Such a preoccupation is reflected in her literary productions.

Another poet published during that period was Crispin George whose collection of poems titled Precious Gems was published by a well known vanity publishing outlet, Arthur Stockwell in 1952. 

A most important name in Sierra Leone Literature is the broadcaster Thomas Decker.  His importance is not only because he spans both the colonial and independence periods, but because his pioneering work in propagating the wider use of Krio for literary purposes was what generated the flowering of Krio plays intensified by Dele Charley, Raymond De Souza George, Esther Taylor-Pearce, Lawrence Kweku-Woode amongst many others.  He is seen as the principal poet in Krio on to the Mid 50s.  Some of them were published in the mid 60s in the Sierra Leone Language Review and Sierra Leone Studies.  He also came out with Krio adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays like Julius Caesar. In addition his collection of the Krio folktales translated into English and published by Evans Brothers has continued to thrill and educate generations of Sierra Leonean children.

It is difficult to account for all of the creative works published then as many appeared in varying media, newspapers, Sierra Leonean Languages, magazines and journals locally as well as abroad.

Abioseh Nicol’s short stories had achieved a punch internationally appearing in British Literary journals and anthologies. They have also been for long popular offerings in schools and colleges in Sierra Leone. Some of these formed part of his two well known short story collections Two African Tales  and The Truly Married Woman and Other Stories  all published by Cambridge University Press. Sierra Leone is represented in most anthologies of African- and English-language poetry and short stories. In addition, the modern novels and short stories of Sarif Easmon, William Conton, and Eldred Jones give a vivid picture of modern life in the country.

This period of colonialism was marked by little publication of creative works in book form. But with the onset of independence and the publication of Robert Wellesley Cole’s autobiographical work Kossoh Town Boy by Cambridge University Press more works in book form were published.

The plays of Raymond Sarif Easmon. Dear Parent and Ogre The New Patriots  and his novel  The Burnt Out Marriage profited from this. Dr. William Conton’s work, The African was a breakthrough for the Sierra Leone novel. It was almost like our own Things Fall Apart.   Like Things Fall Apart, The African was first published in London.  American editions appeared the same year. It was published in 1960 with another edition a year after. It was reprinted in Great Britain in 1964. Translations of it have been made into Hungarian  and Russian. Ekundayo Rowe also had his collection of stories,  No Seed For The Soil,  self- published in book form.

Later, new names like Yulisa Amadu Maddy [No Past No Present no Future], Muctarr Mustapha, Wilfred Taylor, Delphine King and Syl Cheney-Coker [Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar] all broke out into print in various forms.

From the 70s onwards new writers emerged. There is Yema Lucilda Hunter whose historical novel Road to Freedom based on the quest for freedom by ex-slaves was published in Nigeria by a Sierra Leonean  publishing outfit, African Universities Press A.U.P.  She has recently published another novel titled, Bitter Sweet.

Another new name is Prince Dowu Palmer whose novel The Mocking Stones was published by Longmans in 1982 in their Drumbeat series. The same publisher had a year earlier published  Raymond Sarif Easmon’s The Feud and other stories

This period is also characterized by the aggressive promotion of Macmillan publishers in Sierra leone.  They have already three novels from Sierra Leone in their Pacesetter series.  This includes two young writers, the journalist and teacher Edison Yongai who came out with Who Killed Mohta; and the insurance manager, Osman Conteh, with Double Trouble. From abroad also news of the publication of Yayah Swarray’s plays was received. His works  include De Wol do for fraide.  Other writers, notably, Talabi Aisie Lucan, Melville Stuart, Marilyn Awoonor- Renner, Winston Forde and Clifford N. Fyfe channeled their creative energies into producing children’s literature many of which were published by Evans.

After independence a few newspapers and other magazines of schools, colleges and churches carried limited quantity of creative writing.  The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) which was then in the creative hands of the late John Akar, a writer himself, gave much outlet for creativity, whether literary, or performing. SLBS indeed gave prominence to artists like Ebenezer Calendar, Allie Ganda and the Rokel River Boys.  There was also a regular short story programme in some radio programming quarter.  This featured the short stories of young as well as older Sierra Leoneans including two stories of mine.  In addition, there were  book review programmes.  The children’s half hour programmes in English as well as the national languages were opportunities for the airing and dissemination of the rich folklore of the country.  Indeed many of us who had no grandmother at home spinning such rich and interesting yarns for us the story telling line on SLBS indeed filled in a yawning gap in our social and cultural education.

With independence also there were many newspapers including the Daily Mail which was then a truly daily paper that gave much space to creative writing, short stories as well as stories for children in the children’s corner.  There were also regular publications of book reviews as well as some attention given to other artistic activities such as dramatic performances and musical concerts.

But unfortunately today  the literary arts no longer  receive as much attention as before in the press. The pressmen themselves complain of paucity of space which limits their publication to just political, social, and economic news.  The Daily Mail itself had plummeted to an all time low in which it could no longer be safely termed a weekly or bi-weekly.  It too is in dire shortage of space. But today it has finally gone silent.

A commendable trend started in the 70s with the interest shown by a Swedish Linguist Nevillle Shrimpton in the sprouting plays in krio of young as well as older playwrights, one of them long dead.. Thomas Decker’s translation of Julius Caesar was happily one of the plays he published. Also published in the Shrimpton series have been Lawrence Kweku Woode (God pas Konsibul) Raymond De Souza George (Bohbohlef)  Dele Charley (Fatmata, Petikot  Korner) and Esther Taylor Pearce (Bad Man Pas Emti Os).

There were occasional breakthroughs when Sierra Leonean young writers were published in journals and magazines abroad.  A notable medium outside which featured short stories regularly was WEST AFRICA Magazine. Stories of younger writers like Peter Karefa-Smart and Brima Rogers. Yet another of Rogers’ stories was broadcast on the BBC’s Short Story programme on World Service. And a lady writer won the short story competition organized by the BBC African Service followed most recently by Mohamed  Sheriff who has in addition won several playwright contests  organized  by the B.B.C.  His name seems like one to be watched as he has demonstrated consistently strong signs of promise.  He has published three works already including a play, Sorie Clever, another play The Crook and the Fools and a novella titled Secret Fear, which was co-winner of the ECOWAS prize for excellence in literature. Macmillan Publishers published it in the MacTracks series in 1997.

posted 22 August 2007

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Arthur Edgar E. Smith was born and grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He attended  Holy Trinity Boys Primary  and proceeded to the Prince of Wales Secondary School. He did his sixth form at Albert Academy and  went up further the hill to Fourah Bay College. He has taught English since 1977  at Prince of Wales, Milton Margai College of Education  and now at Fourah Bay College again he has risen to the rank of Senior Lecturer of English. Mr Smith is widely published both locally as well as internationally.  He was one of 17 international scholars who participated in  a seminar on contemporary American Literature sponsored by the U.S. State Department from June to August 2006. His thoughts and reflections of this trip which took him to various sights  in Kentucky, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C. can be read at

He was one of 17 international scholars who participated in  a seminar on contemporary American Literature sponsored by the U.S. State Department from June to August 2006. His thoughts and reflections of this trip which took him to various sights  in Kentucky, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C. can be read at His other publications include:  Folktales from Freetown, Langston Hughes: Life and Works Celebrating Black Dignity, and 'The Struggle of the Book in Sierra Leone'. He holds a Masters in African Literature from Fourah Bay College.  A recent story of his could be read at .

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection.

Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). —Booklist

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Race, Incarceration, and American Values

By Glenn C. Loury

In this pithy discussion, renowned scholars debate the American penal system through the lens—and as a legacy—of an ugly and violent racial past. Economist Loury argues that incarceration rises even as crime rates fall because we have become increasingly punitive. According to Loury, the disproportionately black and brown prison populations are the victims of civil rights opponents who successfully moved the country's race dialogue to a seemingly race-neutral concern over crime. Loury's claims are well-supported with genuinely shocking statistics, and his argument is compelling that even if the racial argument about causes is inconclusive, the racial consequences are clear.

Three shorter essays respond: Stanford law professor Karlan examines prisoners as an inert ballast in redistricting and voting practices; French sociologist Wacquant argues that the focus on race has ignored the fact that inmates are first and foremost poor people; and Harvard philosophy professor

Shelby urges citizens to break with Washington's political outlook on race. The group's respectful sparring results in an insightful look at the conflicting theories of race and incarceration, and the slim volume keeps up the pace of the argument without being overwhelming.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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