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Biography of John PEPPER CLARK

Nigeria > Literature : John PEPPER CLARK

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Born on 06/04/1935 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

John pepper Clark Bekederemo (b.April 6, 1935),is one of Nigeria's foremost anglophone dramatists and poets. In his plays he unites Western literary techniques with themes, images, and speech patterns drawn from traditional African theater. He also incorporates elements of the myths, religion, and folklore of his people, the Ijaw, and utilizes masks, drum rhythms, and dance

John Pepper Clark, born of Ijaw parents, is along with Wole Soyinka one of the most articulate, and proficient literary artists to have come from Africa. He received his early education at the Native Administration School and the prestigious Government College in Ugheli. He then got his Bachelors degree in English at the University of Ibadan, where Wole Soyinka also studied.While in school, Clark and a group of fellow students founded the Horn, a publication for which Clark served as editor and where he began to publish his poetry. In 1960 Clark wrote his first dramatic work, Song of a Goat, which was staged in Ibadan the following year. After graduation, Clark worked as a journalist, editor, and feature writer in Lagos for Express newspapers. His success as a journalist resulted in his being awarded a fellowship to study at Princeton University in the United States. Clark did not complete the program but returned to Nigeria, whereupon he accepted a position teaching English at the University of Lagos. In 1964 he published America, Their America, which chronicles his experiences and impressions of American society. Clark served as the Department Head of English at the University of Lagos until his retirement in 1980.


Clark is most remembered for his poetry, including: Poems a group of forty lyrics treating heterogeneous themes; A Reed in the Tide (1965), focusing on his indigenous African background and his experience in America and other places; Casualties: Poems (1970), illustrating the horrendous events of the Nigeria-Biafra war; A Decade of Tongues (1981); State of the Union (1981), which highlights his apprehension concerning the sociopolitical events in Nigeria; Mandela and Other Poems (1988), which deals with the perennial problem of aging and death.

Throughout his work, themes such as the following recur: violence and protest, institutional corruption, the beauty of nature and the landscape, colonialism and the inhumanity of the human race. Clark frequently dealt with these themes through a complex interweaving of indigenous African imagery with that of the Western literary tradition.

Clark's dramatic work includes Song of a Goat (1961), a tragedy cast in the Greek classical mode in which Zifa is the protagonist. His impotence causes his wife Ebiere and his brother Tonye to indulge in an illicit love relationship resulting in suicide. Then follows its sequel, The Masquerade (1964), in which Dibiri's rage culminates in the death of his suitor Tufa.

Other works include: The Raft (1964), in which four men drift helplessly down the Niger aboard a log raft. Though not a tragedy, J.P. Clark’s The Raft shows the misadventures of four men—Olutu. Kengide, Ogrope and Ibodo—who in attempting to bring logs downstream to be sold, drift down the Niger in their lumber raft. Because the raft drifts from its moorings it goes out of control. The four men are thus cut off from all else except each other and left to face hunger and danger together. Caught in a whirlpool, they rig a sail so that a storm will blow them out, but the raft breaks up and Oloto is carried off on the part with the sail. There three survivors drift until a steamboat comes up. Ogrope, trying to swim to the boat to be rescued, is beaten off by its crew and caught in its stern- wheel. Kengide and Ibodo drift on towards Burutu but become lost in the fog while trying to make a landfall by night.

Though THE RAFT is set in a modern situation, its characters are at the same time all bound up by tradition. 

Then there are Ozidi (1966), an epic drama rooted in Ijaw saga; and The Boat (1981), a prose drama at the University of Lagos and in 1985 staged both The Return Home and Full Circle. These three short plays were performed together as a trilogy in 1985 and subsequently published as The Bikoroa Plays.

Clark's other works include his critical study The Example of Shakespeare (1970), in which he articulates his aesthetics and his journalistic essays in the daily national newspapers. In America, Their America (a travelogue), he criticizes American society and its values. He has, since his retirement, continued to play an active role in literary affairs, a role for which he is increasingly gaining international recognition receiving in 1991 the Nigerian National Merit Award for literary excellence and the publication, by Howard University of his two definitive volumes, The Ozidi Saga and Collected Plays and Poems,1958-1988.




Last update : 05/04/2009

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