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B. Kojo Laing

B. Kojo Laing was born in Kumasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana. He was the eldest son of six children and was baptized Bernard Ebenezer, but he later dropped his Christian name in favor of his African identity. Laing’s father was the first African rector of the Anglican Theological College in Kumasi. Although Laing’s family belonged to the educated middle class, they were by no means rich. Laing had to sell snacks on the street in Accra when he was a child. His disgust with this experience influenced his perception of the city and is distinctly expressed in his writings. Laing spent the first five years of his early education in Accra and was later sent to Scotland in 1957, where he had both his primary and secondary education. In 1968, he graduated from Glasgow University with a master’s degree, then returned to Ghana to join the civil service. Laing left the service in 1979 to work as an administrative secretary of the Institute of African Studies for five years and then headed Saint Anthony’s School in Accra in 1984, where he still works today.

Laing emerged as an important poet in the 1970s but did not become very widely known until 1986 when he published his first novel, Search Sweet Country (1975). His search for spiritual meaning is most intensely expressed in this novel, which is an analogy of his own experience as a civil servant in the Ashanti region. In the novel, Laing explores the complexities of human relationships and the different responses of people from different backgrounds to the reign of a corrupt military government. The bittersweet flavor of Laing’s writing reveals his continuous attempt, through language, to bridge the differences between physical reality and spiritual ideals.

Laing’s love of nature is also clearly reflected in his writing. One of his favorite pastimes is hunting, which provides him with a source of imagery. In Woman of the Aeroplanes (1988), for example, Laing uses images that symbolize the natural, surreal, and human worlds. An example of Laing’s use of nature imagery in the novel is his humorous personification of the lake, which becomes extremely jealous of the ducks that swim in its waters and refuses to ripple.

Laing was also deeply influenced by his life experiences, such as his father’s religious devotion and early death and his own journeys and failed relationships. His poem “Funeral in Accra” commemorated his father’s death and marked his rite of passage from youth to adulthood. This poem was published in 1968 together with two other poems, “African Storm” and “Jaw.” These poems contain the metaphors of his psychological struggle between alienation and dislocation.

Laing’s main contribution to world literature is his ability to create a hybrid of languages and images from both the traditional African and modern Western worlds. His works, such as Godhorse (1989), appropriate the common symbol of technology, such as the car, and by simplifying its locomotive movements, compare it with daily human actions, such as walking or transplanting crops in the fields. By carefully and cleverly blending mixed symbols and language, Laing reveals the complexity of interdependent relationships within society.


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