By Henry Akubuiro
Legendary Nigerian playwright, poet and literary scholar, Emeritus Professor JP Clark is no more. He died yesterday, aged 85.
Announcing his death in a statement on behalf of his family, Prof. C. C. Clark Mr. Ilaye Clark, said, “The Clark-Fuludu Bekederemo family of Kiagbodo Town, Delta State, wishes to announce that Emeritus Professor of Literature and Renowned Writer, Prof. John Pepper Clark, has finally dropped his pen in the early hours of today, Tuesday, 13 October, 2020.
“Prof. J. P. Clark has paddled on to the great beyond in comfort of his wife, children and sibbling, around him. The family appreciates your prayers at this time. Other details will be announced later by the family.”
Reacting to his passage, iconic playwright, Professor Femi Osofisan, told Daily Sun, “I am in a big shock at the moment, and I lack words to express how I feel.”
Odia Ofeimun, a legendary poet and one of his best known critics, said, ‘JP Clark has been very loyal to our literature. He never stopped producing. He was always writing poems, no matter whatever he did in the world. Until most recent years, it was as if he was publishing books almost every other year. A man who is that consistent to his profession deserves the proper respect of his colleagues at his death.
“While I am one of his known critics, I am also one of his best admirers, because a critic doesn’t only criticise; he also acknowledges value and praises what is worthwhile. If only for his loyalty to our literature —the fact that he consistently produced and never got distracted by any criticism or praise, he deserves all the honour.
“Ours is not a great country. He was honoured by all his colleagues, but he didn’t get a national honour, because of the lousy perspectives of most governments in the country. But he made it, because almost every school child has been on his side— they acknowledge his value and always identify with him.”
Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, a former student of his, who went on to become a teaching staff colleague of his in the Department of English, University of Lagos, told Daily Sun it was a big loss.
“It is painful, but we remember him with love. At the University of Lagos, he was such an inspiration to those of us who were aspiring writers at that time and those of us who were doing our postgraduate studies.
“He taught me as an undergraduate, so I have really benefited from his tutelage. He was a mentor to many of us at Unilag, and we have continued to remember him and teach his books. He was a good writer, one of the best in Nigeria and one of the best known in Africa, too. “So Nigeria has lost a literary icon. He will never be forgotten, and I hope his home state, Delta, and Nigeria should keep his legacy and name one or two places after him for him to be remembered. It’s the same thing I say about late Chinua Achebe: they are the ones who make Nigerian literature what it is today.”
John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo was born on April 6, 1935, in Kiagbodo, Delta State, to an Ijaw father and Urhobo mother. He got his early education at the Native Authority School, Okrika (Ofinibenya-Ama), in Burutu LGA (then Western Ijaw), and the prestigious Government College in Ughelli, and his BA degree in English at the University of Ibadan, where he edited various magazines, including The Beacon and The Horn.
In 1960, he worked as an information officer in the Ministry of Information, in the old Western Region of Nigeria, as features editor of the Daily Express, and as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. He served for several years as a professor of English at the University of Lagos, a position from which he retired in 1980. At Unilag, he co-edited the literary magazine Black Orpheus.
Clark has also taught at several institutions of higher learning, including Yale and Wesleyan University in the United States.
His major works include the plays: The Raft (1964), Ozidi (1966), The Boat (198), and the poetry volumes: A Reed in the Tide (1965), and Casualties (1966-68).