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Jack Mapanje Biography

(1945?– ), Of Chameleons and Gods, The Chattering of Wagtails in Mikuyu Prison

university poems country malawian

dissident Malawian poet, born of Yao and Nyanja parents in Kadango village in the south of the country. He received his university education in Malawi and in London, and went on to become the best-known of the disproportionate number of outstanding poets to have been produced by this small landlocked African country. Mapanje's first collection of poems, Of Chameleons and Gods (1981), shows his keen sense of observation and distinctive allusive handling of imagery. In his brief introduction to the volume he states: ‘The verse in this volume spans some ten turbulent years in which I have been attempting to find a voice (or voices) as a way of hanging on to some sanity. Obviously where voices are too easily muffled, this is a difficult task to set oneself. This explains why the product of these energies sometimes seems to be too cryptic to be decoded.’ However, the Malawian government banned the book and arrested the author, who was at the time Head of the Department of Language and Literature at the University of Malawi. He was imprisoned without charge or trial—the implication being that he was accused of ‘teaching subversion in the classroom’—from September 1987. His release in May 1991 came after a vigorous international campaign by many prominent individuals and human rights organizations. In 1988 he won the Poetry International Award. His second collection of poems is The Chattering of Wagtails in Mikuyu Prison (1993).

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