Celebrating the Life of South Africa's National Poet Laureate, Keorapetse "Bra Willie" Kgositsile

We at the Furious Flower Poetry Center are saddened by the passing of poet Keorapetse "Bra Willie" Kgositsile. Join us as we pay tribute to his life and work.



Willie Keorapetse Kgositsile: 1938-2018

South Africa’s National Poet Laureate, Keorapetse "Bra Willie" Kgositsile, has died in Johannesburg. He was seventy-nine.  Kgositsile was born in 1938 in Johannesburg and attended Matibane High School. He began his writing career at the New Age, an anti-apartheid newspaper edited by political activist Ruth First, to which he contributed poetry and news reporting.

In the 1960s and 1970s he was a prominent member of the ANC and spent twenty-nine years in exile in the United States and Tanzania. While in the United States he studied at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania University, University of New Hampshire and Columbia University. He published his first volumes of poetry, including Spirits Unchained and My Name Is Afrika, and founded the Black Arts Theatre in Harlem while here in exile.

Kgositsile returned to South Africa in 1990 and was named Poet Laureate by South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture in 2006. In this role, he was involved in numerous initiatives related to the arts and literacy.  In 2008, "Bra Willie" was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga, Silver, for “excellent achievements in the field of literature and using these exceptional talents to expose the evils of the system of apartheid to the world.”

From Kgositsile’s poem ‘Mayibuye iAfrika’:

… I remember
the taste of desire
crushed like the dream
of ghetto orphans rendered
speechless by the smell
of obscene emasculation
but this morning
the sun wakes up
laughing with the sharp-edge
birth of retrieved root
nimble as dream
translated memory rides
past and future alike

Kgositsile’s poetry includes Spirits Unchained (1969), For Melba (1970), My Name Is Afrika (1971), The Present Is a Dangerous Place to Live (1974), Places and Bloodstains (1975), When the Clouds Clear (1990), If I Could Sing (2002) and This Way I Salute You (2004).

A selection of poems from Kgositsile’s life work titled Homesoil in My Blood: A Trilogy, featuring a foreword by Mandla Langa, is to be published this year by Xarra Books.

Published: Monday, January 9, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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