Harry Garuba: Memorial To A Songbird At Passage

The late poet, Harry Garuba
The late poet, Harry Garuba

Described as a “masterful writer and poet”, who was equally “a a luminary in the field of African literature and a champion of postcolonial theory and postcolonial literature”, the highly distinguished Nigerian intellectual and man of letters, Harry Garuba, passed on in the evening of Friday, February 28, after a protracted struggle with Leukaemia, in Cape Town, South Africa, at the age of 61.

A well-respected author and academic, who was located at defining points in Nigerian literature, alongside the scholarly mediation upon this, and who many were easily drawn to, becoming mentor to generations of students and scholars, the late Harry Garuba was – for several years – in the vanguard of the compelling faculty at the University of Ibadan, where he received the full gamut of his tertiary education. There he was a lecturer in the Department of English, and a natural magnet for a tribe of artists and intellectuals – proclaimers, worshippers and heralds of the novelty in thought and knowledge.

Over the past two decades, Mr Garuba was a professor in the African Studies Unit and also the Department of English at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, where the range of his intellection and personality was on remarkable display, as attested to in the university’s official communication announcing his passage, “In Remembrance: Professor Harry Garuba.”

Here it is announced that his “scholarship was driven by a deep dedication to his students and to decolonising the study of Africa.” And that, “he was a strong leader who displayed wisdom and empathy and will be remembered for his warm personality and commitment to a truly transformed university centred around its African identity.”

Furthermore, the University of Cape Town’s commemoration of the deceased notes that, “His dedication to his field was critical in developing the UCT Centre for African Studies as a hub for research on the African continent. As part of the university’s Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG), Professor Garuba was committed to developing thinking about what a decolonised curriculum would look like in Africa and the global south and what a multicultural curriculum would look like in the West.” And that, for Garuba, “He believed that the curriculum was a particularly good place to plant the seeds of transformation and these insights made him a critical part of the CCWG and the university at large.”

Functioning through some four decades in the front guard of cultural mediation and literary theory within the academy, Harry Garuba’s deeply incisive scholarship was outlined by an avant-gardism that was both local and global, not frequently unsettling the conservative ethos of certain academic dispositions, which relentlessly sought its containment. Yet, his intellection was primarily that of uncommon insight, and language, yielding the construction of an entire archive of knowledge, as erected on the foundations of an outstandingly-fangled notion of “animist realism” and “animist materialism.”

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The universe of creative writings, which the late Harry Garuba superintended, not only saw him produce two key collections of poetry, Shadow & Dream and Other Poems (1982), originally published in New Horn Press’ Opon Ifa Series, and Animist Chants and Memorials (2017) by Kraft Books, but he was still the curator of a period classic, Voices From the Fringe: An ANA Anthology of New Nigerian Poetry, a brimming – even if piquant – gathering that signalled a dawn of voices largely needled into ‘verse’ by social anomie.

Beyond being the moving spirit behind the Thursday Group, named after the day of the week the Poetry Club he had founded in the 1980s in the University of Ibadan regularly met for years, and serving as watering hole and workshop for a generation of poets that include Godwin Ede, the late Nike Adesuyi, Chiedu Ezeanah, and Sola Olorunyomi, he also once served as an Assistant General Secretary of Nigeria’s prime writer’s body, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). Yet, in another iteration, he worked as editor of the Association’s journal, ANA Review.

As man of letters and public intellectual, the late Harry Garuba was, for a time, columnist with the Lagos-based activist media outlet, A.M.News, while subsequently offering his services as an Editorial Board member of the now defunct The Post Express newspapers.

He is survived by a wife, Zazi; children, Joshua, Ruona and Zukina; and an aged mother. The details of his memorial and funeral are to be announced by his family in due course.


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