A Profile Of The Poet
A masterful weaver of topical poetic magic in a package of searing images , majestic language, blistering humour and humanity, Chukwuma Azuonye has been at the forefront of African folklore and oral literature for over three decades.
In December 2002, Azuonye's book of poetry Testaments Of Thunder--Poems of Crisis and War was published by Nsibidi Africana Publishers as #1 in the Nsibidi Library of Nsukka Poets of which he is the Series Editor. Featuring mostly poems written between 1966 and 1972, Testaments Of Thunder serves up a totally devastating body of work that rips out the true horrors of the Nigeria-Biafra war our of their several unmarked tombs.
Some of the poems in this collection have previously appeared in international literary journals to warm acclaim. In a review article on Post-Civil War writings from Nigeria (including Nsukka Harvest), in Books Abroad (now World Literature Today), Peter Thomas comments that "His poetry is as eloquent as it is penetrating" and the editors of The Anthill Anthology (University Of Nigeria Nsukka) declare that "Chukwuma Azuonye has written some of the most devastating poems on the civil war which initiated him and his generation into premature manhood and left a bitter taste on their tongue." That bitterness and the blood his eyes shed at the horrors he witnessed just prior to and during the Biafra-Nigerian civil war energised by the poetic environment created by Christopher Okigbo crystallized into impeccable poetry to which he gave his unique voice, inventive genius and experimentation which place him firmly in the charts of the history of that pre/post-war poetic era that Emmanuel Obiechina refers to in Language and Theme: Essays in African Literature wherein he states, "Okigbo has influenced not one but two generations of poets, both of which have made Nsukka their habitat, the generation of Wonodi and Ndu, and the civil-war/post-civil-war generations of Obiora Udechukwu, the late Kevin Echeruo, Chukwuma Azuonye, Onuora Enekwe, Akomaye Oko, among others."
Azuonye has also published three other books in 2003 that will without doubt be very important to the African literary heritage. These are The Silent Sky--Stories of Crisis and War; Prisoner of Silence: Poems; and a translation from Igbo into English of Pita Nwana's Omenuko - the rags to riches tale with a twist about an Igbo Warrant Chief who works his way out of poverty into immense wealth, but when tested by a mishap in which he loses all his goods at sea, he sells his load carriers and apprentices into slavery to buffer himself, only to later regret this, redress the damage and redeem all the people he sold and spread his wealth around the community.
Born at Okigwe, Nigeria on the 31st of March 1945, Azuonye's first published poem was "Unfriendly Friends" in the Okigwe National Grammar School magazine The Terminal 1959. He later became Editor of The Terminal in 1963.
The Nigerian civil war was extremely traumatic for Azuonye who has written persistently in a wide diversity of genres since 1963. Twice (at Enugu and Akwakuma near Owerri) he lost invaluable manuscripts of completed novels, plays and poetry-sequences in the wake of the incursion of Nigerian troops. A few fragments of his wartime prolixity have however managed to survive, thanks to the German facilitator, Ruth Stumann-Bowert and two literary friends, Obiora Udechukwu and Steven Vincent. Among the surviving poems is Rituals of Raids" which was translated into German and published in Gedischte aus Biafra in 1969 with one poem each from six other Biafran poets: Akomaye Oko, Uche Okeke, Obiora Udechukwu, Bons Nwabiani and Godwyn Nwaorgu. Two poems "Fleeing or Staying" and "Rituals of Raids" (German translations) published in Soll Biafra Uberleben. These two poems were reprinted in Der Anstoss (Western Germany) 1970.
Azuonye was Elected Editor of Odunke Publications and of The Muse literary Journal of the English Association at Nsukka in 1971. That same year, he published "The Lost Path" a short story in The Insider: Stories of War and Peace, with stories by Chinua Achebe and others. Described by The Times Literary Supplement as "the most technically accomplished story in The Insider, a German translation of the story appeared in 1978 under the title "Der Verlorene Pfad" in the anthology, Erkundungen: 27 afrikanische Erzahler, ed. Burkhard Forstreuter. Berlin: Verlag Volk und Velt, pp. 92-104.
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