INSTITUTE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN AFFAIRS REMEMBERS POET KAMAU BRATHWAITE WHO HAS PASSED AT 89

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[Remembering Poet Kamau Brathwaite]
Co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement, Brathwaite’s honors include the Casa de las Americas Prize for Literary Criticism, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, and the Charity Randall Prize for Performance and Written Poetry.
Photo: Facebook

It is with great sadness the Institute of African American Affairs & Center for Black Visual Culture-NYU announce the passing of our colleague Kamau Brathwaite, a world-renowned poet, critic and distinguished professor of Comparative Literature at New York University.

Brathwaite was 89.

Born in Barbados, he traveled and worked in Africa, the Caribbean including Ghana’s Ministry of Education, as well as teaching at Harvard University, the University of the West Indies, and in the United Kingdom.

Using “nation language” as well as linguistic and typographic innovation, Brathwaite composed poems connecting strands of postcolonial, historical, and personal inquiry. Brathwaite’s experimentalism and poetics of the political affirmed the place of Afro-Caribbean, Black Atlantic writing in the canon of world literatures like never before. As Publishers Weekly noted in a review of Slow Horses (2005), Brathwaite’s work is “omnivorously synthetic, insistently local, sinuously syncopated and consistently exciting.”

Brathwaite is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Elegguas (2010), the Griffin International Poetry Prize winner Slow Horses (2005), Ancestors ( 2001), Middle Passages (1992), and Black + Blues (1976). His first three collections, Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968), and Islands (1969), have been gathered into The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973). He is also the author of Our Ancestral Heritage: A Bibliography of the Roots of Culture in the English-speaking Caribbean (1976) and Barbados Poetry: A Checklist: Slavery to the Present (1979).

Co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement, Brathwaite’s honors include the Casa de las Americas Prize for Literary Criticism, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, and the Charity Randall Prize for Performance and Written Poetry, as well as fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

The Institute of African American Affairs & Center for Black Visual Culture-NYU collaborated with Professor Brathwaite on several events including hosting a book signing to celebrate the release of Golokwati 2000 ; Marassa 10/2010, A Festival of Caribbean Film, Story and Imagination ; and publication in the journal Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire. We remember Professor Brathwaite as a brilliant, generous and dedicated poet, a musician-with-words, a critically thought-provoking scholar who leaves behind compelling and nuanced work for many future generations.

His poem “the Mmusiowatuunya dream mountain” appeared in the Winter 1999/2000 issue of Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire. An excerpt is printed below.

The Mmusiowatuunya Dream Mountain for Tom Dent

We nvr hear the Fall nor see the Lake

from the window of the dark sightseeing train

where we was sitting. all of us in various

compartments of the snake watching outwards &

curving. but the first thing we sight is these great

mauve lilies on the fern-colour stem w/the soft like

hair rather than prickle or thorn all up & down their

length. deep green & misty & damp like the palmate

macusi fern from the high centuries of volcano

and we know that this must be Mmusiowatuunya.

though we don't see or hear the great waters falling

from heaven as it were. falling & nvr falling. a

forever of mist & white water over the smooth &

great saucer of the mountain

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