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...
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