Echeruo, Michael (Joseph Chukwudalu)
ECHERUO, Michael (Joseph Chukwudalu)
Nationality: Nigerian. Born: Umunumo, Mbano Division, 14 March 1937. Education: Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt, 1950–54; University College, Ibadan, 1955–60, B.A. (honors) 1960; Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (Phi Beta Kappa), 1962–65, M.A. 1963, Ph.D. 1965. Family: Married Rose N. Ikwueke in 1968; five children. Career: Lecturer, Nigerian College of Arts and Technology, Enugu, 1960–61. Lecturer, 1961–70, senior lecturer, 1970–73, and professor, 1973–74, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; professor of English, 1974–80, and dean of the Postgraduate School, 1978–80, University of Ibadan. Vice-chancellor, Imo State University, Owerri, 1981–89. Visiting professor, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1989–90. Since 1990 William Safire Professor of Modern Letters, Syracuse University, New York. Since 1977 founding president, Nigerian Association for African and Comparative Literature. Awards: All-Africa Poetry Competition prize, 1963. D.Litt.: University of Nebraska, 1992. Address: Syracuse University, Department of English, 410 Hall of Languages, Syracuse, New York 13244, U.S.A.
Mortality. London, Longman, 1968.
Distanced: New Poems. Enugu, I.K., 1975.
Joyce Cary and the Novel of Africa. London, Longman, and New York, Africana, 1973.
Victorian Lagos: Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Lagos Life. London, Macmillan, 1977; New York, Holmes and Meier, 1978.
Poets, Prophets, and Professors. Ibadan, Ibadan University Press, 1977.
The Conditioned Imagination from Shakespeare to Conrad: Studies in the Exo-Cultural Stereotype. London, Macmillan, and New York, Holmes and Meier, 1978.
Joyce Cary and the Dimensions of Order. London, Macmillan, and New York, Barnes and Noble, 1979.
Editor, Igbo Traditional Life, Literature, and Culture. Austin Texas, Conch, 1972.
Editor, The Tempest, by Shakespeare. London, Longman, 1980.
Critical Studies: Interview with Bernth Lindfors, in Greenfield Review (Greenfield Center, New York), 3(4), 1974; "The Dignity of Intellectual Labor: A Fiftieth Birthday Tribute" by Isidore Okpewho, in The Gong and the Flute: African Literary Development and Celebration, edited by Kalu Ogbaa, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood, 1994.* * *
From the crossroads experience of an African heritage and a "European" education, the Nigerian writer Michael Echeruo, like his late countryman Christopher Okigbo, has forged poetry that is wide-ranging, deceptively simple, and highly individual. Although the poems in his first volume, Mortality, often come out of his experiences as a master's and doctoral student in the United States, they are still like trees with their roots deep in African soil, no matter how high their branches reach into a foreign sky. The return to Africa, whether physically or metaphorically, is implicit, as in the first poem in the book, "Debut":
Have we not looked the whole world out,
searched the whole hearth out
till we saw the palm-nuts again
by which we were to live?
It is, therefore, no accident that an entire section of his book is titled "Defections" and that he says in the poem "Harvest Time," "Village maidens / are the bearers of my harvest …"
Wit and irony also figure strongly in Echeruo's poetry, along with a sense of what it is to be an African poet in a foreign land:
… like an unfeathered bird
in their spring—
white and spruce and clean—…
like an unclassified gift
to their museums
where they spin out fine tall tales
all day long
amid the blistering flurries
of their bleak December days.
Although Nigeria figures strongly in his verse, Echeruo also ranges capably throughout Western literature, bringing in such diverse sources as the Bible, D.H. Lawrence, Joyce, and St. John of the Cross. His poem "The Signature," which revolves around the figure of O'Brien (who seems to be an Irish priest like the Flannagan of Chris Okigbo's "Limits"), draws a picture of African ceremonies in conjunction with Catholic rites and reaches the conclusion that "the priests and elders of my past / would love to see O'Brien's paradise."
Whether ironic or celebratory, whether a poem of love or a poem of satire, there is a current of lyricism that runs through all of Echeruo's verse, a lyricism that can be felt in the lines from his poem "Wedding." These lines speak of birth and stress again the poet's ties to the soil:
Tap roots beneath the giant
speak like the gods
and life comes
like a spasm of light …