I strain my tired voice in song
to reach up to the star by the moon
a song I vowed never more to sing;
But from sundown to sunrise
I seek a union continually
which breaks my vow and I sing
a silent song to the rhythm of ageing drums
drums not heeding constraints of fear
Bear the song tenderly toward an ear
-From the poem ‘To a star…” by Dr Gabriel Okara
Gabriel Imomotimi Okara was a Nigerian poet and novelist born on the 24th of April 1921 in Bumoundi in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Dr Okara passed away on the 24th of March 2019 at the age of 97. A doyen of Nigerian literature and considered one of the first Modernist Anglophone poets in Africa, Dr Okara leaves behind a rich legacy.
“Gabriel Imomotimi Okara is generally considered to be one of the founders of modern African literature. Okara and his contemporaries were faced with the challenge of overcoming the problem involved in expressing African idioms and thoughts in English language. What later became perfected as African Writing by writers like Chinua Achebe was an experiment began by writers like Gabriel Okara.”- Osa Mbonu-Amadihttps://www.vanguardngr.com/2019/04/when-death-swept-through-nigerian-arts-community/
Some of Dr Okara’s work includes: Collected Poems (edited, 2016), As I See It (poems, 2006), The Dreamer, His Vision (poetry, 2005), An Adventure to Juju Island (children’s literature, 1992) Little Snake and Little Frog (children’s literature, 1981) The Fisherman’s Invocation (poetry, 1978) and The Voice (novel, 1964).
In 2009 he was awarded Pan African Writers’ Association Honorary Membership Award. In 2005, Okara won the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, (NLNG), Prize for his poems in The Dreamer, His Vision. He received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1979 For The Fisherman’s Invocation. In 1953, he won the Best All-Round Entry in Poetry at the Nigerian Festival of Arts, for The Call of the River Nun
A lifelong Patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Dr Okara’s immense contribution to African literature has in many ways paved the way for new voices from Nigeria and the rest of the continent.