ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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  It is always painful to remember that we would have lost Osundare to Hurricane Katrina

which wreaked havoc in some parts of the United States in 2005. When the toxic water took

over their apartment, Osundare and his wife fled to the attic and were there in the intense

heat, without any drinking water, food, electricity, or any means of communication for 26 hours.



  Books by Niyi Osundare

Songs of the Marketplace  (2006)  / The Word is an Egg  (2005) /  Pages from the Book of the Sun  (2002)  / Two Plays (2006)

Thread in the Loom: Essays (2002) /  The State Visit  (2002)  /  Midlife (2005)  / Moonsongs  (1988)  /  The Eyes of the Earth  (2007)

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Niyi Osundare At 60

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye  


Recently, Professor Niyi Osundare, poet, scholar, essayist, humanist and patriot turned 60. Unfortunately, the Nigerian environment was most unreasonably saturated with a lot of animal noise and needless tension as a result of the unwholesome and primitive politics that appears to have found fertile ground in these parts, and so an event of such magnitude was grossly under-marked and underreported. 

Sadly, instead of Osundare and his sterling contributions to literature, society and the academia dominating the public space on such a time, exasperating din from mere empty containers, who have done nothing but bleed Nigeria pale since they inflicted themselves on the nation as politicians and resilient leeches, grabbed the front pages. 

In a way, that would seem an apt reward for Osundare himself who has over the years used his poetry, essays and public speeches to vigorously combat the ills these people nurture and represent in his consistent struggle to see Nigeria emerge as a strong, decent and well-governed nation, which everyone one of us would be very proud to call our own. 

Osundare’s commitment to his fatherland has remained exceptional. Even in the most hazardous of all times, he had refused to abandon the country, preferring instead to stay put at Ibadan, for his students and Nigeria. His various interventions, usually crafted in very strong but unique and exceptionally beautiful language, has jolted dictators, emboldened the populace and generally contributed rare insights and motivations to the struggle for a better nation.    

The literary community, however, defied the depressing mood of the time, and stood up to honour one of its extraordinary giants on his sixtieth birthday. Readings and lectures were organized at several literary spots to mark the event.

Although I got the invitation to attend the special reading in Osundare’s honour on Saturday March 10, at The Jazzhole, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, I could not make it. The Association of Nigerians Authors (ANA) also met at the National Theatre that same evening for its monthly reading, which it dedicated to the great poet. There were other equally exciting gatherings of the tribe at other venues in Ibadan and Lagos and Ikere Ekiti, where the leading poet was, was most deservedly, wrapped with shinning encomiums and celebrated with enchanting chants.  

It is now widely accepted that Osundare is Africa’s finest poet. His way with words is distinct and rare. It is impossible to read Osundare’s poetry and not be awed by his great insights, and overwhelmed by the great talent he betrays, and the exceptionally overpowering way he deploys words to great effects. His ability to create very vivid and lasting imageries in the mind of the reader, the rhythms he realizes so effortlessly, and the deep, fresh meanings his poems yield each time one reads them, are what, in my view, makes his work stand out all the time. 

Osundare’s 1988 collection, Moonsongs (Ibadan: Spectrum Books), remains my favourite of all his works I have read, and each time I want to thoroughly enjoy myself, admire exceptional talent and immerse myself in the overwhelming power and exhilarating aura of well loaded words, I always go to Moonsongs. And like the poet sang to the moon in the book, I would implore his poetry to “mother me in the surging valley of [her] knowing bosom”. 

Perhaps, it is only the moon that can “heal the scars of wounded winds” as the cricket, perhaps, overwhelmed by the immaculate brightness of the full new moon seeks to “slit night’s silence with the scalpel of its throat.”

It is impossible to read Moonsongs, and not see yourself under the immaculate brilliance of a moonlit night. It is so pleasantly real. 

Though a great and loud admirer of Osundare, I have neither met him nor made any attempts to do so, but as I read Moonsongs once again, to mark his birthday, I longed for a full bright moon to “spread” across the sad Lagos “sky like a generous mat”, to illumine my environment, and sack the gloom and darkness that has become an inevitable feature of existing in a badly run country like Nigeria, so I could compose and sing my own “moonsongs” to celebrate this great bard. For which day would be most appropriate to do this than on a moonlit night, when the smile of the moon “ripens the forests”, and men and women are bathed with its golden glory.  

Spread the sky like a generous mat

Tell dozing rivers to stir their tongues

Unhinge the hills

Unwind the winds

The moon and I will sing tonight. (Moonsongs , p.1) 

I derive immense pleasure from devouring any essay, poetry or interview by Osundare, or anything written on him or his work. I make it a habit to update my collection of materials on him. His words carry almost that same sagely weight, insight and originality that one hears only in the likes of Chinua Achebe. 

It is always painful to remember that we would have lost Osundare to Hurricane Katrina which wreaked havoc in some parts of the United States in 2005. When the toxic water took over their apartment, Osundare and his wife fled to the attic and were there in the intense heat, without any drinking water, food, electricity, or any means of communication for 26 hours. Later they were rescued by a neigbour who had come around with a boat, perhaps, to pick some things from his own house. 

“That was our escape”, Osundare told the Voice of America (VOA) in October 2005. “It was purely accidental. If our neighbour hadn’t come, we would have been part of the statistics by now.”   

At the time this disaster occurred, Osundare was a professor of English at the University of New Orleans. And when he wrote the following words in the dedication page of Moonsongs,  it was doubtful if he ever thought it would one day celebrate his own triumph over death in New Orleans: 


all who stood for


when twilight

thundered in

with a cavalry of howling axes and death suddenly sprang

from the armpit of waking stars

But Earth said No

to their crimson plot…

Noon yet, then,

at our forge of busy bellows

We shall break many


on the elbow of the river

deep, ever so deep


like the rainbow of a thousand dreams

We are grateful to God that Osundare survived Hurricane Katrina. Although he had lost to the floods most of the things he valued so much: his books, manuscripts, computer files and more, I agree with the person who said that what he has is greater than what he lost, for the brain from where the contents of those lost manuscripts emanated remains fertile and active. 

This is wishing the great poet, scholar and crusader many happy returns of the day.

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye writes a column (SCRUPLES) for the Independent ( ) every Wednesday. ; BLOG:

posted 17 April 2007

Niyi Osundare, who was born in Nigeria in 1947 and is currently a professor of English literature at the university of New Orleans, is considered the greatest living Nigerian poet. Most of his books are published in Nigeria; The Word is an Egg, his latest collection, appeared earlier this year. Just recently, two books of his, Pages from the Book of the Sun: New & Selected Poems and Thread in the Loom: Essays on African Literature and Culture, were published in the United States by African World Press. His work has been translated in Dutch, German, Korean and French, and has won many literary awards, such as the Noma.

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

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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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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Home   Ugochukwu Table   Transitional Writings on Africa   The African World

Related files: Niyi Osundare At 60   The Remains of the Day   I am Alive  Osundare's Universe of Burdens  PraiseSong for Niyi Osundare  (Mona Lisa Saloy)  Niyi Niyi Osundare (poem  by Lee Meitzen Grue) 

The Poet's Pen & Other Poems