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Jack Mapanje

Jack Mapanje

Broadcast

First broadcast: Sun 24 Oct 2004

Poet

Sue Lawley's castaway this week is the poet Dr Jack Mapanje who is one of the most important living African poets. He was born into a poor household in a typical African village in 1944, when Malawi (then Nyasaland) was a British colony, but while he was still a child it became part of the Central African Federation, together with Northern and Southern Rhodesia.

Jack started writing poems, inspired by his despair at the political woes besetting his country. Although his book, Of Chameleons and Gods, was only sold in one book shop in Malawi, it won considerable acclaim around the world and was awarded the Rotterdam International Poetry Prize. He was ambitious and set up a writers group within his own University and, although he knew it was dangerous, felt compelled to continue with his writing. He was arrested in 1987 while drinking in a bar. The World Service broadcast a news item about Mapanje's arrest the following day and his cause was taken up by writers' groups and activists across the world. Dr Mapanje was held without charge or trial in Mikuyu Prison for more than three years, scarcely aware of the international campaign to free him. When he was finally released, again it was without warning or explanation. Believing his life was still in danger, he fled with his wife and children to Britain. He has lived here ever since and now lectures at the University of Newcastle.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]

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