Kwame Dawes is not a new face in the literary circle, rather, is an established literary figure who has several books to his name. At the just ended 15th Time of the Writer Festival in Durban, South Africa, I spoke to him, had him talk about the long successful career he has enjoyed as a writer. The interview took place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the Howard College campus.
The first thing I did when we settled down for the interview was , of course, to introduce myself as a fellow Ghanaian who like many Ghanaians have heard and seen Kwame Dawes on the cover of books but have not actually felt him on the Ghanaian soil. In fact, as a book reviewer and blogger myself, my first contact with his book was some three years ago when I per chance saw his debut novel, She’s Gone, at a used bookshop in Kasoa, Ghana.
Apparently, the owner of the bookshop was an African-American who had come down to Ghana to settle. After I had purchased the book over a good bargain, I asked him, ‘Are you a reader yourself?’ I followed it up with another question, ‘Why have you moved to Ghana to open a bookshop?’ In fact, if not for the fact that I had purchased Dawes’s book, he would have actually been annoyed with my second question. He eventually brushed off the second question and went on to tell me the story of the book I had purchased. So that was when my interest in Kwame Dawes’s books began.
The first question I asked Kwame was that, ‘you were actually born in Ghana, where did you live?’ In response, Kwame said that they were living at Achimota, in Accra, close to Legon, when he was born. Eventually, the family moved to Legon where Kwame grew up. He went on to talk about his father who was a University Professor and how his father came to Ghana to teach at Technology in Kumasi in the 50’s.
‘So your father was a Jamaican?’ I asked him. ‘Yes, my father was a Jamaican and my mother a Ghanaian from Cape Coast,’ he said.
My next question had to do with why and when he decided to move to Jamaica? He responded by saying that it was because of a family move and that he was just about 9 years old when they moved from Ghana, around 1971. His father’s mother, as it appeared at the time, was growing old in Jamaica and so the family decided to move from Ghana.
‘How was it like as a nine year old boy when you first landed in Jamaica? I asked. Kwame responded by saying that when growing up as a child, his father told him stories about Jamaica. He went on to say that in Jamaica, Kingston was the city where they arrived and as it is known, Kingston happens to be the major city of Jamaica and is situated on an Island.
I began to delve into his writing career as I asked him when he began writing. Kwame talked about the fact that he started serious writing when he was 16 years at sixth form. He mentioned renowned names like T.S Elliot which according to him imitated at the beginnings of his writing. Kwame did not leave out the fact that writing letters also played a part during those times when one had pen pals whom he writes to.
Kwame attended the University of West Indies at Mona. According to him, while at the university he was convinced by a friend to write plays and as it turned out a play he wrote won a contest while at school. Later on in life, he moved to the University of Iowa under a fellowship to study writing at a time when he was about 24 years old. He told me that he was the youngest student there.
On the question of the writers he admires he gave an eclectic and interesting list: Derek Walcott from the Caribbean, Kofi Awoonor from Ghana, Kamau Brathwaite from the Caribbean.
Dawes’s first novel he published was ‘She is Gone’ in 2004. Besides this; he has written 16 books of poetry, 2 novels and in total have written about 32 books. Hearing this remarkable span of a writing career, I asked him about his favourite book among the lot and he came up with his book Bob Marley Lyrical Genius.
To end the interview, I asked him about what he currently does? In response, he happens to be a Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska and the Glenna Luschei Editor-in-chief of the Prairie Schooner, one of the oldest and most respected literary journals in the United States.
It was a great pleasure talking to Kwame Dawes, a renowned literary figure who for all practical purposes has enjoyed a great successful writing career. To read more about Kwame Dawes and his works, do hop over to his website.