Renonwed Poet J.P. Clark Dies at 86

Prof JP Clark

By Adedapo Adesanya

One of Nigeria’s golden generation poets, Prof John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, is dead. The renowned writer breathed his last on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, at the age of 86.

This was disclosed in a statement signed by Mr C. C. Clark and Mr Ilaye Clark on behalf of the family today.

“The Clark-Fuludu Bekederemo family of Kiagbodo Town, Delta State, wishes to announce that Emeritus Professor of Literature and Renowned Writer, Prof. John Pepper Clark, has finally dropped his pen in the early hours of today, Tuesday, 13 October 2020.

“Prof. J. P. Clark has paddled on to the great beyond in comfort of his wife, children and siblings, around him.

“The family appreciates your prayers at this time,” the statement said.

He was born on December 6, 1933, in Kiagbodo to an Ijaw father and Urhobo mother in present-day Delta State.

Prof Clark received his early education at the Native Authority School, Okrika (Ofinibenya-Ama), in Burutu LGA (then Western Ijaw) and the prestigious Government College in Ughelli, and his BA degree in English at the University of Ibadan, where he edited various magazines, including the Beacon and The Horn.

Upon graduation from Ibadan in 1960, he worked as an information officer in the Ministry of Information, in the old Western Region of Nigeria, as features editor of the Daily Express, and as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.

He served for several years as a professor of English at the University of Lagos, a position from which he retired in 1980. While at the University of Lagos he was co-editor of the literary magazine Black Orpheus.

In 1982, along with his wife Ebun Odutola (a professor and former director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Lagos), he founded the PEC Repertory Theatre in Lagos.

A widely travelled man, Prof Clark held visiting professorial appointments at several institutions of higher learning, including Yale and Wesleyan University in the United States.

He was most noted for his poetry, including Poems (Mbari, 1961), a group of 40 lyrics that treat heterogeneous themes; A Reed in the Tide (Longmans, 1965), occasional poems that focus on Clark’s indigenous African background and his travel experience in America and other places; Casualties: Poems 1966–68 (USA: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1970), which illustrate the horrendous events of the Nigeria-Biafra war and A Decade of Tongues (Longmans, Drumbeat series, 1981), a collection of 74 poems, all of which apart from “Epilogue to Casualties” (dedicated to Michael Echeruo) were previously published in earlier volumes;

Others are State of the Union (1981), which highlights Clark’s apprehension concerning the socio-political events in Nigeria as a developing nation and Mandela and Other Poems (1988), which dealt with the perennial problem of ageing and death.

His dramatic work included Song of a Goat – premiered at the Mbari Club in 1961, a tragedy cast in the Greek classical mode in which the impotence of Zifa, the protagonist, causes his wife Ebiere and his brother Tonye to indulge in an illicit love relationship that resulted in suicide. This play was followed by a sequel, The Masquerade (1964), in which Dibiri’s rage culminates in the death of his suitor Tufa.

Other works include The Raft (1964), in which four men drifted helplessly down the Niger aboard a log raft; Ozidi (1966), a transcription of a performance of an epic drama of the Ijaw people and The Boat (1981), a prose drama that documents Ngbilebiri history.

Other details concerning his burial rites will be announced in due course.

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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