John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo

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John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo is recognized as a major poet for his collections Poems (1962), A Reed in the Tide: A Selection of Poems (1965), Casualties: Poems, 1966-1968 (1970), and A Decade of Tongues (1981). He has also published literary criticism with The Example of Shakespeare: Critical Essays on African Literature (1970) and a travel diary, America, Their America (1964).

Achievements

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John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo was a member of an extraordinary group of creative young Nigerian writers and artists who began their careers in the early 1960’s with publication in the legendary magazine Black Orpheus. Contributors besides Clark-Bekederemo included Chinua Achebe, the Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo. The nature of this publication defined Clark-Bekederemo’s subsequent work. He wished to establish and confirm the importance and dignity of his Ijaw inheritance in the river delta of Nigeria and yet communicate these roots through publication in English. Both in his poetry and in his drama, he presented his ancestry with affectionate sensibility. Yet because he had become an academic within the formal university system that the British had exported to West Africa, he was committed to linking this antecedent with the wider concept of international, universal human issues. His major works draw from the specific environment of his birth. He uses English to make profound statements about the conditions of humanity in the contemporary world, but an English skillfully adapted to express its African context.

Bibliography

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Cartey, Wilfred. Whispers from a Continent: The Literature of Contemporary Black Africa. New York: Vintage Books, 1969. Clark-Bekederemo’s Song of a Goat, The Masquerade, and The Raft are analyzed in considerable detail, toward Cartey’s thesis that in Clark-Bekederemo’s plays “man is indeed adrift and his actions to escape the drift are futile.”

Egudu, Romanus. Four Modern West African Poets. New York: NOK, 1977. The chapter on Clark-Bekederemo makes the point that his poetry and drama both take on “the theme of calamity, of the tragic ‘reality’ of existence.” Characters are victims of punishment, often undeserved, from society and the gods.

Elimimian, Isaac Irabor. The Poetry of J. P. Clark Bekederemo. Ikeja, Nigeria: Longman Nigeria, 1989. A full-length study of Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry.

Esslin, Martin. “Two Nigerian Playwrights.” In Introduction to African Literature: An Anthology of Critical Writing from “Black Orpheus,” edited by Ulli Beier. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1967. Clark-Bekederemo is compared with Wole Soyinka, but with more theatrical authority than African expertise. Particularly informative on the question of English-language theater for African writers.

Fearn, Marianne. Modern Drama of Africa, Form and Content: A Study of Four Playwrights. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1978. A section of chapter 3 deals with the verse theater of Clark-Bekederemo and his use of traditional music, dance, and folk characters. Strong bibliography on African drama.

Graham-White, Anthony. The Drama of Black Africa. New York: Samuel French, 1974. Chapter 5 gives a brief biography, then discusses the plays, from Song of a Goat to Ozidi (based on Ijaw traditional drama), in terms of Greek tragedy, cursed houses, and fallen heroes. Contrasts Clark’s pessimism with Wole Soyinka’s more positive views. Index and valuable chronology.

Ifie, Egbe. A Cultural Background to the Plays of J. P. Clark-Bekederemo. Ibadan, Nigeria: End-Time, 1994. A full-length study of Clark-Bekederemo’s plays.

Irele, Abiola. Introduction to Collected Plays and Poems, 1958-1988. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1991. A substantial introduction to Clark-Bekederemo’s dramatic and poetic work, discussing his debt to European theatrical tradition, especially the Theater of the Absurd. Ozidi is cited as his “most fully realized play.”

Povey, John. “Two Hands a Man Has.” In African Literature Today: A Journal of Explanatory Criticism, edited by Eldred D. Jones. Vol. 1. London: Heinemann, 1972. An analysis of Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, which he himself refused to separate from his drama; T. S. Eliot’s influence is noted. The title refers to Clark’s recurring theme of the fundamental contradiction in individuals as a result of their dual parentage.

Wren, Robert. J. P. Clark. Boston: Twayne, 1984. An overview of Clark-Bekederemo’s life and work.

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Critical Essays