Wally Mongane Serote

Wally Mongane Serote is South African Poet Laureate.

Wally Mongane Serote has been announced as the new South African Poet Laureate taking over a role that was previously filled by the late Keorapetse Kgositsile. The announcement was made at the South African Literary Awards on November 6, 2018.

A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. In South Africa, the first poet laureate was Prof Mazisi Kunene in 2005 and he would hold the position until he passed on after a bout with cancer on August 11, 2006. The next person who took the position in 2006 would be popular poet and political activist Keorapetse Kgositsile until he passed on in January.

The new poet laureate for South Africa is Wally Mongane Serote. The announcement was made last night at the South African Literary Awards hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Just like the previous occupant of the position, Wally Mongane Serote lived in exile for many years having lived in Botswana and the UK. Starting with his first poetry collection Yakhal’inkomo (1972), he has written Tsetlo (1974), No Baby Must Weep (1975), Behold Mama, Flowers (1978), The Night Keeps Winking (1982), A Tough Tale (1987), Third World Express (1992), Come and Hope With Me (1994), Freedom Lament and Song, (1997), and History is the Home Address (2004). He also has written three novels in To Every Birth Its Blood (1981), Gods of Our Time (1999), and Scatter the Ashes and Go (2002).


The announcement was generally received with good cheer with people welcoming the new poet laureate.

While Serote is imminently qualified for his new role, there were some grumblings. The Abantu Book Fair who were hoping for popular poet Lebo Mashile tweeted, “There is a new National Poet Laureate, Mongane Wally Serote, and while we respect bra’Wally we won’t lie it is not who we hoped and believed it should be. Lebo Mashile deserved that. Maybe we should think about the Abantu Poet Laureate.”

Also bringing reservations of the appointment was poet Koleka Putuma who is well known for her groundbreaking collection Collective Amnesia asking in a Twitter thread, “What is Mongane Wally Serote going to do with this position? — Are we allowed to know, is it a secret? — Is it a lifetime achievement award? Do the powers that be understand the difference?

She brought us the work that other poets have done in the past. “Maxine Kumin started a popular series of poetry workshops for women at the Library of Congress. Gwendolyn Brooks met with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Rita Dove, considered the first activist poet laureate, brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists, championed children’s poetry and jazz with poetry events and read at the White House during Bill Clinton’s first state dinner.

On how long they keep the role Putuma asked, “Also, they appoint one every year. Why do our laureate serve until kingdom come?

Check by the whole thread below.

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