Renowned author, Cyprian Ekwensi, dies at 86


From Uduma Kalu, Literary Correspondent, Enugu.

 DARKNESS fell again in the Nigerian literary firmament yesterday when veteran novelist, pharmacist and public commentator, Cyprian Ekwensi passed on. He was 86 years old.

The author of the popular Jaguar Nana series of novels was said to have died at the Niger Foundation in Enugu where he underwent an operation for an undisclosed ailment. It was not clear as at press time yesterday if he died during or after the operation.

Earlier this year, Ekwensi released Cash on Delivery, a collection of short stories, which turned out to be his last book. When he turned 86 last year, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos State chapter and the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), feted him.

Ekwensi was celebrated as the forefather of the city novel.

He is believed to be the author of the earliest published fiction on social life in the Lagos Metropolis. The accomplished novelist is remarkable for his down-to-earth style of writing and his prolific output, with over 20 novels to his credit.

One of his books, Divided We Stand, a lampoon on the Nigerian Civil War, is slated for discussion by experts in a conference on 40 years after the civil war.

“How far so far”, is one of the themes for discussion at the ninth edition of the Lagos Book Fair, holding on Friday morning at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.

Told of the passing on of Ekwensi, poet and past president of ANA, Odia Ofeimu, was “shocked beyond words” to comment immediately.

To the newly elected Lagos State ANA chairman, Mr. Chike Ofili, it was an unnerving piece of information. He too withheld his comments till later.

News of the death broke as Nigerian authors were rounding off their yearly convention held over the weekend in Owerri, Imo State.

He was a Nigerian writer who stressed description of the locale and whose episodic style was particularly well suited to the short story.

Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi was born at Minna in Northern Nigeria on September 26, 1921. He later lived in Onitsha in the Eastern area. He was educated at Achimota College in the Gold Coast, and at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy of London University. He lectured in pharmacy at Lagos and was employed as a pharmacist by the Nigerian Medical Corporation.

He married Eunice Anyiwo, and they had five children.

After favorable reception of his early writing, he joined the Nigerian Ministry for Information and had risen to be the director of that agency by the time of the first military coup in 1966. After the continuing disturbances in the Western and Northern regions in the summer of 1966, Ekwensi gave up his position and relocated his family to Enugu. He became chair of the Bureau for External Publicity in Biafra and an adviser to the head of state, Lt.-Col. Chukwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

Ekwensi began his writing career as a pamphleteer, and this perhaps explains the episodic nature of his novels. This tendency is well illustrated by People of the City (1954), in which Ekwensi gave a vibrant portrait of life in a West African city. It was the first major novel to be published by a Nigerian. Two novellas for children appeared in 1960; both The Drummer Boy and The Passport of Mallam Ilia were exercises in blending traditional themes with undisguised romanticism.

His most widely read novel, Jagua Nana, appeared in 1961. It was a return to the locale of People of the City but boasted a much more cohesive plot centered on the character of Jagua, a courtesan who had a love for the expensive. Even her name was a corruption of the expensive English auto. Her life personalised the conflict between the old traditional and modern urban Africa. Ekwensi published a sequel in 1987 titled Jagua Nana’s Daughter.

Burning Grass (1961) is basically a collection of vignettes concerning a Fulani family. Its major contribution is the insight it presents into the life of this pastoral people. Ekwensi based the novel and the characters on a real family with whom he had previously lived. Between 1961 and 1966 Ekwensi published at least one major work every year. The most important of these were the novels, Beautiful Feathers (1963) and Iska (1966), and two collections of short stories, Rainmaker (1965) and Lokotown (1966). He continued to publish beyond the 1960s, and among his later works are the novel Divided We Stand (1980), the novella Motherless Baby (1980), and The Restless City and Christmas Gold (1975), Behind the Convent Wall (1987), and Gone to Mecca (1991).

Ekwensi also published a number of works for children. Under the name C. O. D. Ekwensi, he released Ikolo the Wrestler and Other Ibo Tales (1947) and The Leopard’s Claw (1950). In the 1960s, he wrote An African Night’s Entertainment (1962), The Great Elephant-Bird (1965), and Trouble in Form Six (1966).

Ekwensi’s later works for children include Coal Camp Boy (1971), Samankwe in the Strange Forest (1973), Samankwe and the Highway Robbers (1975), Masquerade Time! (1992), and King Forever! (1992).

In recognition of his skills as a writer, Ekwensi was awarded the Dag Hammarskjold International Prize for Literary Merit in 1969.

Ekwensi, a one-time Commissioner for Information in the old Anambra State, is survived by children and grand children.    

14 thoughts on “Renowned author, Cyprian Ekwensi, dies at 86

  1. Irony of life. I am a South African writer and it was through Nigerian author, Bolaji that I learnt that the great Cyprian Ekwensi was dead! Omoseye Bolaji, recently honoured here in South Africa with the Chancellor’s Medal for his own writing, was almost in tears when he broke the news to me. I read a few of Mr Ekwensi’s absorbing books – may his soul rest in peace!



    A poem by Omoseye Bolaji

    He celebrated life fulsomely
    Spinning riveting, fascinating fiction
    Hark at Amusa Sango
    And the landlord’s coruscating harem
    From People of the city
    Unfurling a gallery of unforgettable characters
    Straddling the decades
    A cornucopia of throbbing femmes
    Unraveling throughout his works
    Irresistible Jagua Nana and her teeming vicissitudes
    And the odyssey of her daughter
    Then: Beatrice 1. Beatrice 2!
    Sensuous ladies redolent
    In Beautiful feathers
    How do we Survive the peace?
    Beleaguered Iska…
    But the youth also gorge
    On Ekwensi’s repasts
    Beguiling twists and turns
    Redolent in The passport of Mallam Ilia
    Africa Night’ s Entertainment
    Haba! The grand master story teller is gone
    The fecund pen silenced
    But the endearing works live forever…


  3. I am a South African poet. I’m so pleased to see Bolaji’s poem on Ekwensi here. I have read Cyprian Ekwensi’s People of the city, an exciting novel. He was indeed a great writer. Congrats are also in order to Omoseye Bolaji for just publishing his latest book, Tebogo and the Haka (2008)


  4. Letter to the Prolific_Giant_ Cyprian Ekwensi

    I believe that as a
    critique or somewhere in the lines of the above

    One must read
    impower the mind
    nourish the soul
    And feel the pages
    In order to understand the rhythms
    Which stand in the light

    Personally in my own space
    I me therefore us did not know
    This we call literature
    writing or rhyming ….
    But through the works of such
    Oustanding Magnificent
    right on the spot on top of the note

    I Too questioned by the mind …
    I did not know this man …
    But at this moment
    I make it my duty
    To read
    and undertand the legacy he leaves behind …

    May his soul rest as we write
    And reflect on what we have read
    Stories told and forgotten …

    Omoseye’s Tebogo fiction
    Congrats for the Haka and the rest
    Speak for you …

    May you continue to Bless in what you do
    For the love of literature
    I write this note …



  5. Please i want to know how to meet the children of this great man, i have read his work and i am sad that an icon of literature of his caliber is no more, oh how i wish i have met such a great man alive.


  6. Nigeria has truly lost a literary giant. As a tribute to him, I am writing my masters thesis on him. It is titled; PERSPECTIVES OF NIGERIAN YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE; A STUDY OF CYPRIAN EKWENSI. I pray i get lucky in this because I am using these books by him- The Passport of Mallam Ilia, Samankwe and the Highway Robbers, Buring Grass and An African Night Entertainment. Anyone who has materials on him should please send them through my mail box. I will acknowledge them duly


  7. i am an Egyptian author and translator and so interested in african literature , i have already translated many african works into arabic language , so , i hope to know more and more about black african literature


  8. I’m doing a thesis on Ekwensi. i really dont think he’s been celebrated enough. I need any relevant material i can lay my hands on. Ekwensi lives on…


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