Famous Nigerian Poets

5 Famous Nigerian Poets You Should Know About

Poetry is an appealing expression of art, especially those from famous Nigerian poets because they have a unique way of communicating the thoughts and feelings of their country’s people. 

In fact, some of these famous Nigerian poets have seen their works go beyond the shores of the country, a good number of these poems have been embraced by the English-speaking community and in some other places, they have to be translated into other Languages.

To attest to how wonderful these poems are, these works from most of these famous Nigerian poets have been received on the global stage with prestigious awards that can run into hundreds and thousands of dollars in prize money.

So, if you are wondering why poems from famous Nigerian poets can be so riveting, it would interest you to know that many of the poems penned down by these famous Nigerian poets are inspired by local folklore which has been heavily steeped in myths and magic.

Asides from oral traditions, since many of these famous Nigerian poets lived in the era when Nigerian hadn’t won independence, happenings in the country during those times also drove most of these famous Nigerian poets to write down poems that spoke deeply about the good, bad and ugly experiences that characterized those early days.

In this post, we consider some of these famous Nigerian poets that have made their mark in the field of literature.

List of Famous Nigerian Poets

It is very important to note that even though the pieces masterfully created by these famous Nigerian poets resonate strongly with the Nigerian people, they also have immensely contributed to the ever-increasing body of work in African literature.

Ben Okri

Born in the year 1959 in Minna, the Niger state capital, Ben Okri is one figure that would be considered one of the most famous Nigerian poets. He began his education in his early years in the United Kingdom before returning to Nigeria. Upon completion of his early education, he was unfortunately underaged to apply for a university education in Nigeria. 

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This was what launched him to write poems because in those periods he couldn’t get into the university, he would spend tons of hours perusing books in his dad’s library and one day, he penned down what would later go down as his first poems.

Apart from being among the famous Nigerian poets, Ben Okri is also an essayist, film script writer, playwright, and of course, an award-winning novelist. His first novel, Flowers and Shadows garnered the admiration of many from far and wide, and his novel, The Famished Road won the 1991 Booker Prize award.

Ben Okri, like the other famous Nigerian poets on this list, writes about the land of spirits, and to his credit, he has a collection of poems known as the African Elegy.

Chinua Achebe

A descend of the famous Government College, Umuahia in Eastern Nigeria, Chinua Achebe certainly doesn’t need any introduction. He is inarguably the most famous Nigerian poet and arguably, in West Africa. He was such a prodigy that at the age of eight, he learned the English language.

His poems have a unique tone to them that evokes a sense of nationalism in the readers. Most of his poems are centered around the Biafran War where he exposes the ineptness of the Nigerian government back in the day, the gross irresponsibility of the leaders not forgetting also the penury that had characterized her citizens.

You can sense his love for the Igbo culture in his literary works. For example, his novel, Things Fall Apart was written with a southeastern context in view. 

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Such creativity in all his works from novels to poems couldn’t have gone unnoticed. In 1972, he was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for his famous poetry collection, Beware, Soul brother, and other Poems. He also bagged many other awards including the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. This put paid to any doubts made around his status as one of the most famous Nigerian poets.

Woke Soyinka

If there is anything that stands out for Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, or Wole Soyinka as he is popularly known as it has to be the 1986 Noble Prize for Literature. He was the first sub-Saharan African to win this prestigious prize.

He is well known as his playwright, nonetheless, his genius in poetry can’t be ignored. Given his Yoruba lineage, most of his works are founded in deep Yoruba mythology and traditions.

Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, is one of his works of poetry that brings him into the conversation with one of the famous Nigerian poets of his time. This particular poem was interestingly written when he was exiled from this country under the rule of General Sani Abacha and it has been read in several countries of the world.

Lost Poem, A Shuttle in the Crypt, and Poems from Prison are some of the popular poems he has written.

Niyi Osundare

Known for his book writing prowess which has seen him publish many children’s books, Niyi Osundare asides Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, he is considered one of the most famous Nigerian poets and, understandably, so because he has authored about eighteen poetry books.

Born in Ekiti the southwestern part of Nigeria, Niyi grew up till he became the head of the English department at Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan. Somehow, this wasn’t unconnected to what he was known best for. 

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Niyi’s works especially poems carry the tone of an activist who is championing important matters in the African community. He tells the story of the inhumane treatment Africans experienced during the colonial era.

Christopher Okigbo

Recognized not only as one of the famous Nigerian poets but also, in the African continent, Christopher Okigbo is such a powerhouse. He was born in the year 1932 and has his father who was a school teacher to thank because his writing experience can be traced to his early efforts.

Like some of the famous Nigerian poets mentioned in this list, Christopher Okigbo studied at the University of Ibadan. He served as the assistant librarian during his time at the University of Nigeria.

Heaven’s gate, Labyrinth with Path of Thunder, and Collected Poems are some of the collections of his poems that brought many awards his way. Outside his personal writing, he also belonged to some writing associations which even led to the formation of the Citadel Press with Wole Soyinka.

Christopher Okigbo would be remembered for his efforts in fighting for the Biafran War which was never missing in most of his poems. Though he died in 1967, his work would continually stay in the minds of those who read and would read his poems.

Conclusion

We have looked at some of the famous Nigerian poets, their dedication to using their poems to highlight challenges in the country is exemplary. In fact, beyond that, we see how poems can be an effective tool of communication.

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