Ayi Kwei Armah Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ayi Kwei Armah is one of the most acclaimed, yet controversial, West African writers. Born in 1939 to Fante-speaking parents at Sekondi-Takoradi, in the western region of Ghana, Armah received his early education at Achimota College, near Accra. In 1959, Armah traveled to the United States on a scholarship, studying for one year at Groton School in Massachusetts, and later at Harvard University, where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in sociology. Armah returned to Ghana in 1964 and worked briefly as a scriptwriter for Ghana Television. In 1967, he traveled to the United States on a grant from the Fairfield Foundation to participate in the graduate writing program at Columbia University in New York City. Subsequent to his studies at Columbia, Armah went to Paris and worked as an editor-translator for Jeune Afrique. In 1968, he returned to the United States and took a teaching post at the University of Massachusetts. Four years later, he traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he accepted a teaching job. Armah’s works exhibit Western influences, as they show the plight of alienated heroes in search of values in a society seemingly devoid of meaning.

Set in Sekondi-Takoradi, one of Ghana’s major port cities, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born chronicles the life of a railway clerk who routinely must make hard choices between easy money that would enable him to provide more adequately for his family and his own conscience, which disallows his acceptance of bribes as a means of getting ahead. Armah considers corruption and opportunism as responsible for the failure of the nationalist movement, since newly elected leaders, once they have risen to power, become no less predisposed than were their colonialist predecessors to secure their own positions through unethical means or at the expense of the masses they were elected to serve.

The despair that results from dashed hopes also pervades Armah’s second and third novels. In Fragments and Why Are We So Blest? Armah depicts insular individuals, or artist-heroes, whose aspirations are thwarted by a grasping, acquisitive society. The artist-hero Baako...

(The entire section is 887 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ayi Kwei Armah was born in 1939 in the seaport town of Sekondi-Takoradi in western Ghana. Unlike the unnamedprotagonist of his first novel, Armah was able to attend mission schools and Achimota College, near the capital city of Accra. He then received scholarships to continue his education in the United States. Like the “man” in his first novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, however, his early life was dramatically influenced by the effects of colonial rule. During World War II, the British sent Ghanaians to fight in Burma (Myanmar) and on other battlefields; the postwar period in Ghana was marked by economic crises, social unrest and strikes, the rise of political parties, and the achieving of independence.

Armah did not experience directly the events after independence. In 1959, he received a scholarship to attend Groton School in Massachusetts. He went on to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude in sociology. In 1963, he visited Algeria and worked as translator for Révolution Africaine. He saw firsthand what was happening in African countries after independence: a continuation of the old policies, of African subservience, and of poverty. The novel Why Are We So Blest? appears to be a distillation of Armah’s experiences during these years.

During his brief return to Ghana in 1966, Armah attempted to apply his American education and his talents as a writer in various ways. He was a research...

(The entire section is 410 words.)