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Book News: Remembering Poet Kofi Awoonor, Killed In Nairobi Attack

Kenya security personnel take cover outside Nairobi's upscale Westgate Mall after shooting started inside early Monday morning.
Sayyid Azim
Kenya security personnel take cover outside Nairobi's upscale Westgate Mall after shooting started inside early Monday morning.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • The Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor was killed in Saturday's attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, according to an essay by his friend Kwame Dawes in The Wall Street Journal. Dawes, also a poet, wrote: "Last night, I received news that Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet, diplomat and academic had been shot to death by terrorists in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. I got the news in my hotel, which is about five minutes from the mall. The news came through diplomatic channels in Ghana. 'Barring a miracle, we have lost him. Get some sleep, we have a long wake ahead.' This was the note his protégé and fellow Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho, sent to me." One of Ghana's best-known literary figures, Awoonor had formerly been a United Nations envoy and an ambassador to Brazil and Cuba. The 78-year-old writer was reportedly in Kenya for the Storymoja Hay literary festival, which has been suspended following the attacks. Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama, said in a statement, "I am shocked to hear the death of professor Kofi Awoonor in the Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate."
  • The Colombian writer and poet Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo died Sunday at age 90, The Associated Press reports. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is quoted as saying: "The millions of friends and admirers of Alvaro Mutis profoundly lament his death. All of Colombia honors him." Perhaps best known for his story collection The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, he was among Latin America's most celebrated writers. The AP notes: "The cause of death couldn't immediately be confirmed, though Mexican media quoted his wife, Carmen Miracle, as saying he died at a cardiac hospital from a cardio-respiratory problem."
  • In an interview with the Catholic magazine America, Pope Francis spoke about his favorite books. "I love very much Dostoevsky and Hölderlin," he said. "I remember Hölderlin for that poem written for the birthday of his grandmother that is very beautiful and was spiritually very enriching for me. The poem ends with the verse, 'May the man hold fast to what the child has promised.' "
  • The best books coming out this week:

  • Nominated for both the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland is one of the most anticipated books of the year. Writing for NPR, Ellah Allfrey had mixed feelings about the novel: "Lahiri has an uncanny ability to control and mold sentences and action, imbuing the characters with dignity and restraint. But for me, this was also the novel's weakness; too often the narration felt cold, almost clinical, leaving me longing for a moment of thaw." Lahiri recently told NPR's Lynn Neary in an interview that she writes to help her "understand, to ... break out of my own consciousness, you know, the limitations of my own life."
  • The three linked essays in Julian Barnes' Levels of Life are a strange mixture of memoir, meditation and invention. They range from the death of Barnes' wife to the hot-air balloon voyages of Sarah Bernhardt and her "artist-lover" Georges Clairin. The third essay, and the only one to deal directly with his wife's death, is probably Barnes' best. He writes: "There is always the sudden spear-thrust to the neck. Because every love story is a potential grief story."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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