Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo Biography


(World Poets and Poetry)

Christopher Nixton Ifekandu Okigbo was born in 1932, when the British ruled Nigeria as a colony. Although Okigbo received a colonial education and was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, he also followed many Igbo traditions in his childhood. These traditions included the familial worship of the goddess Idoto. Okigbo’s grandfather was a priest at the Idoto shrine, which is associated with the river that flows through Ojoto. Much of Okigbo’s poetry speaks directly to Idoto, the river goddess, or prominently features or references her.

Okigbo was educated at the University of Ibadan, where he began his studies as a medical student. He switched to a concentration on Greek and Latin classics and graduated in 1956. Okigbo married an Igbira princess, Judith Sefi Attah, daughter of the Attah of Igbiraland. Together, they had a daughter, Obiageli Ibrahmat Okigbo, born in 1964.

Okigbo held a number of jobs in business, politics, publishing, and academia. He served in significant roles, including manager of Cambridge University Press for West Africa and organizer for the Mbari Club, a group of musicians, artists, and writers (including Wole Soyinka). Okigbo, also an accomplished pianist, played with Soyinka on stage. With Chinua Achebe, Okigbo created the publishing house Citadel Press. He eventually dedicated himself full-time to his poetry, until the onset of the civil war in Nigeria.

The war, which was based on ethnic tensions, saw...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Christopher Okigbo (oh-KIHG-boh) died in 1967 at the age of thirty-five, after having written serious poetry for only eight years. In that period he was recognized as the most important contemporary African poet. He remains important and influential.

Okigbo was born into the Roman Catholic family of Chief Ezeonyeligolu James Okigbo and Anna Onugwualuobi Okigbo, in Ojotu-Uno, ten miles east of Onitsha-on-the-Niger. His father was a school headmaster, an occupation that entailed frequent transfers, so Okigbo’s elementary schooling was discontinuous and dispersed. His Catholic upbringing and schooling left an imprint on young Okigbo’s psyche and was to find expression in the ritual and liturgical structure of his poetry.

Okigbo was always spirited and rambunctious, and his high school education at Government College, Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria, allowed him to experiment with and develop his budding interests in sports, music, and journalism, even as he pursued his education under austere colonial teachers and administrators. Critiquing of colonialism and cultural imperialism was to be a major preoccupation in his poetry, especially in Heavensgate and Limits.

Upon completing high school, he easily gained admission to the Ibadan College of London University to study medicine. There he juggled his studies with sports, music, magazine publishing, and poetry. Deciding that his calling was in the arts, he changed majors...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anozie, Sunday O. Christopher Okigbo: Creative Rhetoric. New York: Africana, 1972. The first book-length structuralist study of Okigbo’s poetry.

Egudu, Romanus. Four Modern West African Poets. New York: NOK, 1977. Devotes a chapter to cultural criticism of Okigbo’s poetry.

Elimimian, Isaac. Theme and Style in African Poetry. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen, 1991. Contains a theoretically informed discussion of Okigbo’s poetry. Updates the Egudu and Udeoyop works.

Mazrui, Ali A. The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. New York: Third Press, 1972. A confusion of history, myth, and biography, which accuses the poet of betraying art by sacrificing himself for society and humanity.

Ngara, Emmanuel. Ideology and Form in African Poetry: Implications for Communication. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1990. Offers a corrective on Ali A. Mazrui’s book, extolling social commitment and political consciousness as integral to African poetry.

Nwoga, Donatus Ibe, ed. Critical Perspectives on Christopher Okigbo. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1984. Gathers essays on Okigbo’s poetry.

Okafor, Dubem. Nationalism in Okigbo’s Poetry. Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension, 1980. Discusses Okigbo’s poetry as a sociopolitical and nationalist project that culminated in the prophecy, since fulfilled, of the death of both poet and nation.

Udeoyop, Nyong. Three Nigerian Poets: A Critical Study of the Poetry of Soyinka, Clark, and Okigbo. Ibadau, Nigeria: Ibadau University Press, 1973. Examines Okigbo as one of the three most important Nigerian poets.