Ayi Kwei Armah, one of Africa’s literary icons, a Ghanaian, was born on 28 October 1939. He was born in the seaport of West Ghana, Sekondi Takoradi, to Fante-speaking royal parents from the Ga nation. You know what, Ayi is much more than a writer. Though he majored as a novelist, he also has written essays, poems, and short stories.
Armah attended Achimota School (1953 – 1958), a reputable learning institution in his time. Ayi Kwei was funded for school abroad through a scholarship he won. His stay in the United States lasted four years (1958 – 1964). Within this period, he completed his secondary education in Groton Schools, in Groton, Massachusetts, enjoyed quality education at the world-class Harvard University where he received a degree in Sociology. Ayi later moved to Algeria, where he worked as a translator for a magazine, Revolution Africaine.
He returned to Ghana, where he was engaged in writing and teaching. He wrote scripts for Ghana Television and taught English at Navarongo Schools. Ayi edited Paris’s magazine of the Jeune Antique, after which he studied and obtained M. F. C in Creative Writing. When Armah was in his thirties, he taught through the College of National Education, Chamg’omge and the National University of Lesotho in East Africa. He once lived in Dakar, Senegal and taught at Amherst, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison respectively. This was in the 1980s, when Armah was in his forties.
Arma’s first novel, which threw him into the limelight, was published in 1968. Not after many series of publishing short stories and poems in the Ghanaian and Harper’s magazine, Atlantic monthly and New African magazine since 1960, did he emerge with The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born – a depiction and structural representation of the Ghanaian life with a nameless character struggling to realize the deeds of post-independence. This work was so much recognised nationally and internationally that it was controversially criticised by literary critics. The great Nigerian renowned novelist,
Chinua Achebe commended his skill and literary efficacy, yet observed that there should be no specific home for the nameless character in the novel. In his words, “no name, no home.” Armah got angry, and replied with abusive letters in angry tones to Achebe.
His second novel, Fragments , published in 1970 reflects his hatred for bribery and corruption. Ayi Kwei was able to contrast the world of corruption, imbalance and injustice to a life of genuine uprightness, integrity, and equity in the piece. In a style which wraps up the Ghanaian society of that day, the novel’s character is a protagonist named Baako, who has lived in the United States and studied there. Upon returning home, he finds the highest level of moral decadence and a life governed by materialism, irreligious lifestyle, and apprehensive attitude towards wealth and fame.
Also in 1972, Armah published Why Are We So Blest? It is an interesting novel with its setting in an American University; its main character is a student of Harvard School, who later drops out. The novel ends in an unhappy note as Modin, the character, struggles to adapt to strange Western values and the reality of independence.
Armah continued with his literary activities and in 1973 came up with another novel titled Two Thousand Seasons , which centres on the cruelty of the slave trade in those days. In the novel, Ayi Kwei excellently discusses the matters arising from the perspective of the oppressions from the leaders to the ruled masses, clamouring change.
In 1979, he appeared with yet another work titled
The Healers . This book contains a mixture of facts and fictions about the fallen Ashanti Empire. Its title represents the traditionalists and occultists who are bent on procuring a solution to fragmentation because it was seen as a lethal disease in Africa. He published no novel until 1995, when he emerged with Orisis Rising, which narrates the Egyptians’ ordeal and a group of reformist working to stabilize the look of things at the ancient Egypt.
Ayi Kwei Armah, a great novelist, essayist, story writer, and poet was recognised as one whose prowess aligns with the likes of Great African writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.
Most of his works were criticised destructively, for instance, Two Thousand Seasons , was noted for repetition and lack of clarity. However, Wole Soyinka praised its vision, sophistication and humane approach.
All through Armah’s writings, he dealt with the plight and struggles of Africa. Mainly concerned with creating a Pan-African organisation, which will embrace diverse cultures and languages of the continent, he once requested the adoption of Kiswahili as a continental language. Obviously, Ayi Kwei Armah is a blessing to the African literary world, which embodies the characteristics of a patriotic citizen of no mean city, touching issues that affect all and sundry.