THE government of Anambra State has paid tribute to the late John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo. The literary giant, poet and Emeritus Professor, popularly known by his pen name, J P Clark, died in the early hours of Tuesday, October 13, at the age of 85.
He was one of the outstanding figures of African literature and academic scholars.
In a release issued by Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba on behalf of Gov. Willie Obiano, the state expressed her condolences and commiserated with “the great Clark family of Kiagbodo in Delta State, led by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark.”
Adinuba informed that “Anambra State is in the end comforted that JP Clark left a celebratory legacy even in his demise as a world-famous poet, playwright, folklorist, and a dear friend of Anambra State – Light of the Nation.”
The message described the late legendary poet, dramatist and folklorist as an illustrious in-law, because his younger sibling, General Henry Clark, was married to Anambra’s celebrated scholar and public servant, Prof. Marian Ikejiani-Clark, whose father, Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani was one of Africa’s foremost medical scientists and chairman of the Nigerian Railways Corporation (NRC) in its heyday “and played a key role in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence.”
The statement further described the death of the fallen legend of the literati as an irreplaceable loss to the literary community, lamenting earlier loss of Clark-Bekederemo’s friends and illustrious Anambra-born literary icons, Prof. Chinua Achebe and award-winning poet, Chris Okigbo.
Emphasising that the late Clark was a “precocious poet,” the statement also cited him among the prime-movers of the literary club, Mbari in Ibadan, alongside Christopher Okigbo, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.”
According to the statement, it was “under the imprint of Mbari that Clark published his first collection of poems entitled Poems in 1961 before he forged ahead to publish other collections such as A Reed in the Tide, Casualties, A Decade of Tongues, State of the Union, Mandela and other Poems.”
Other cerebral works from “Clark in much-anthologised poems include Night Rain, Abiku, Streamside Exchange, Ibadan and Casualties, that have been studied extensively for the West African School Certificate (WASC) examinations.”
It further noted that JP Clark made history as Africa’s first Professor of English, a coveted feat he achieved at the University of Lagos and revealed that Christopher Okigbo had given the manuscript of his poems Path of Thunder to Clark before he was killed at the beginning of the Nigeria-Biafra war, and Clark duly published the poems posthumously in the magazine Black Orpheus.
Born in Kiagbodo in the present-day Delta State to an Ijaw father and an Urhobo mother, JP Clark was educated at the famous Government College, Ughelli, before studying at the University College, Ibadan.