In Memoriam: Keorapetse W. Kgositsile: Poet Laureate of South Africa.


Keorapetse William Kgositsile (popularly known as Bra Willie) was born in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) in South Africa. He passed away on January 3, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He attended Matibane High School. Influenced by European writers such as Charles Dickens and D.H. Lawrence, Kgositsile began writing as a hobby. He soon got a job at the newspaper, New Age, where he contributed poetry and news reporting. The New Age was a radical anti-Apartheid newspaper edited by political activist Ruth First. Kgositsile, being a member of the African National Congress (ANC), through the newspaper, found a platform from where he could voice his contempt for the system. In one interview he was quoted as saying: "In a situation of oppression, there are no choices beyond didactic writing: either you are a tool of oppression or an instrument of liberation."

In 1961, under the instruction of the ANC, Kgositsile left the country. He first went to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he worked for Spearhead magazine. The following year, he left for the United States of America, where he studied at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania University, University of New Hampshire and Columbia University. He graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia University, and in 2012, he received an honorary doctorate of Literature and Philosophy from the University of South Africa for his enduring efforts to promote the use of indigenous languages and reading through his engaging poetry.

Kgositsile gained much success in the U.S. He published his first collection of poems, Spirits Unchained. It was well received and he was awarded the Harlem Cultural Council Poetry Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Award. In 1971, he published his most influential collection My Name is Afrika, which established him as a leading African poet. Kgositsile wrote extensively about the American jazz scene.

One of the most significant poets in the Pan African movement, he also founded the Black Arts Theatre in Harlem, New York. He befriended fellow poets such as Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) and Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), who wrote an introduction to his collection, My Name Is Afrika (1971), and the renowned African American poetry collective The Last Poets, a group of poets and who arose in the late 1960s era of Black nationalism in the U.S. that took their name from a passage in Kgositsile's writing.

In 1974 he was a founder member of the...

To continue reading