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David Cook Bred East Africa’s First Writers

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th June 2003 03:00 AM

Cook, a professor of Literature at Makerere (1967-77) died in March in Southampton, UK, where he lived in retirement after his sojourns in Africa. Magemeso Namungalu, his former student writes:

Cook, a professor of Literature at Makerere (1967-77) died in March in Southampton, UK, where he lived in retirement after his sojourns in Africa. Magemeso Namungalu, his former student writes:

Professor Cook was one of the powerful squad of Makerere University professors and scholars, who proved their worth. They included Prof. Ali Mazrui of Political Science; Prof. Langlands of Geography and Prof. John Mbiti of Religious Studies.
Prof. Cook always went out to talk to both established and unestablished writers, to the media and did programmes on radio and TV stations.
He kept budding academicians and scholars around him, like Ngugi Wa Thiongo, David Rubadiri, Timothy Wangusa and Rose Mbowa, all of whom later became professors.
As a young man in the Department of English Literature at the then University of East Africa, Cook set out a platform for modern literature in East Africa.
He edited Origin East Africa the first book of creative writing by Africans in East Africa. Many of the young authors included in that book have made it in creative writing.
Assisted by Miles Lee, a producer at Radio Uganda, he edited Short East African Plays, and, with Rubadiri, he later edited Poems From East Africa, a poetry anthology, which became a regional set book in secondary schools.
In 1965, Cook founded the Makerere University Travelling theatre, where his students moved from place to place acting in schools, trading centres and in public places.
He also ran a programme on Radio Uganda in the ’60s known as In Black And White, where he talked to both established and unestablished writers from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. I was one of those young writers. Some of the In Black And White




programmes were compiled into a book and published.
When Cook became professor of Literature and Head of the Literature Department in 1967, he transformed Makerere Department of English Literature into the Department of Literature in English to embrace any literature written in English.
He was also key in the establishment of the Department of Music, Dance and Drama to cater for performing arts.
That is the man to whom a number of African writers in East Africa and beyond are indebted for the perfection of their craftsmanship as writers.
I met Prof. Cook in 1968, when I was a secondary school boy. My English teacher, Grace Burtlet, introduced me to him after I wrote a poem, The Unlucky Lover. The poem was later included in an anthology, Poems From East Africa, and in 1988, used for ‘O’ Level UNEB Examination.
I thought he would live to see my seven books that will soon roll off the press, but the cruel hand of death reached for him in March.
Prof. Cook’s introduction of the young people to the mechanics of literature was unique. For example, when I first visited him, he went along with me to the house of an excellent poet, Henry Barlow, where many writers were gathered.
Through Cook, I came to know excellent men of letters such as Ngugi; David Rubadiri; Prof. Pio Zirimu and his wife Elevania; Prof. Ali Mazrui; Prof. John Mbiti and other academicians.
One of my earliest and biggest activities as a writer was my appearance on In Black And White, where my poetry was produced by Rose Mbowa and discussed by Cook and Ngugi.
Unfortunately, I was under his tutorship at Makerere University for only one year. After failing to renew his contract, he went to teach in the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, from where he moved to Kenya and taught at Moi University.
While in Kenya, he visited Uganda in 1991 for what he described as the great re-union and was able to meet many of his former students. It was at that time that he made efforts to come back to Makerere, but was not allowed to do so.
I made him a big party at my Bugolobi residence and many of his former students, especially those involved in creative writing, attended. Thereafter, he came back a number of times, becoming a darling of my children, especially my youngest son, Eric, who is now at Kibuli Secondary School.
Now that he is gone, I realise he was not an easy man. He one time lectured me about a poem, The Town Beauty, which I had written and I thought I was the most sun. Days later, he telephoned me to congratulate me for writing one of the greatest poems. He included it in his Poems From East Africa.
Cook believed literature was a living thing. He would say that African writing was no longer a curiosity where anything written in Africa could be published.
He blamed untrained British colonial English teachers, whom he said made literature unpopular in Africa, giving examples of British Colonial English teachers who ignored the indigenous poetry and instead transmitted fear of poetry to their students instead of creating love for it.
He was a Jack of all trades in literature and comfortably taught all genres of literature –– poetry, drama or prose. He did not only teach literary criticism, but also discipline in writing.
Born January 22, 1929 in Sydney, Australia, Cook started his career in literature as a schoolmaster in Southampton, UK.
He taught in modern Schools as he did his evening part-time degree course in the University of London. He graduated with a first class in 1954.
Later, he took an M.A. course and graduated in 1956 with a distinction after which he went to teach at the University of Southampton where he was until 1962.
In 1961, Cook visited Uganda and lectured at Makerere University, for 10 weeks. He returned to Uganda in 1962 and stayed for 15 years until he was forced out in the times of Idi Amin Dada in 1977. Ends

David Cook Bred East Africa’s First Writers

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