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Gabre-Medhin, Tsegaye 1936–2006

Gabre-Medhin, Tsegaye 1936–2006

(Tsegaye Kawessa Gabre-Medhin)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born August 17, 1936, in Boda, Shewa, Ethiopia; died February 25, 2006, in New York, NY. Theater manager, educator, and author. A world-renowned poet and dramatist, Gabre-Medhin was considered by many to be the poet laureate of Ethiopia. He was interested in play writing from an early age, and was greatly honored when he was just thirteen and a play he had written was staged before Emperor Hailie Selassie I. Traveling to Chicago on a scholarship, he earned a law degree from the Blackstone School of Law in 1959. However, he would never become a practicing attorney. The draw of the theater was too strong, and after studying drama at the Royal Court Theatre in England and the Comedie Francaise in Paris, he was made director and art advisor at the Ethiopian National Theatre in 1961. His plays, almost all written in Ethiopia's national language of Amharic, first saw production in the late 1950s. An exception to this rule is Oda Oak Oracle: A Legend of Black Peoples, Told of Gods and God, of Hope and Love, of Fears and Sacrifices (1964), which was composed in English. Gabre-Medhin, a native Oromifa speaker, was fluent in many African languages, as well as English. Leaving the National Theatre in 1971, he became an editor for Oxford University Press's Addis Ababa branch for a time and was vice president of the Black Arts Festival in Ethiopia from 1973 to 1976. He returned to the National Theatre as general manager in 1974, but that year was arrested by the country's new military government. The playwright's messages of peace, love, and understanding across ethnic groups in Africa, as well as his celebration of Ethiopia's history and past culture, did not sit well with the new oppressive regime, and Gabre-Medhin would see almost half his plays banned at one time or another. Released from his wrongful imprisonment—he was never formally charged with any crime—he left the theater for Addis Ababa University in 1976, where he was a professor of the theater arts department that he founded. He also traveled widely across the globe, attending conferences and lecturing about his ancient land. Kidney disease prompted Gabre-Medhin to move to New York City for medical treatment in 1998, and he lived there for the last seven years of his life. Also a translator of plays by such writers as Bertolt Brecht and William Shakespeare, he published thirty-three original plays in all, as well as many poems that appeared in journals and anthologies. Gabre-Medhin earned such honors as the Hailie Selassie I National Prize and was named Commander of the Senegal National Order, but he received one of the greatest compliments of all when lyrics from one of his poems were chosen in 2002 for the African Union's official anthem.



New York Times, March 9, 2006, p. C18.

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