Remembering a Poet Laureate: Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin’s 75th Birthday Anniversary

Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedhin. Photo by Chester Higgins, Jr. (©

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Tuesday, August, 23, 2011

New York (Tadias) – A special celebration honoring the life and work of Ethiopia’s Poet Laureate, the late Tsegaye Gebremedhin, will be held in Addis Ababa and Washington DC throughout the year.

“Family and friends of the late Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin are celebrating the poet’s 75th birthday anniversary and his work,” the press release states. “Author of around 34 plays in Amharic and about 10 plays in English, along with several volumes of poetry Gabre-Medhin is widely recognized as among Ethiopia’s most prolific and acclaimed writers. As part of an ongoing effort to keep his literary legacy alive, family and friends are organizing a year-long series of events in Addis Ababa and Washington DC.”

A few years ago, in an essay entitled A Short Walk Through His Literary Park, Professor Negussay Ayele described the writer’s earliest influences: “Poet Laureate Tsegaye is of the generation—numbering a dozen or so who are extant — of Ethiopian men of letters who were born during the crucible of the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s. As such, his early childhood gestation period was molded by the trauma of that war of aggression against which his patriot father fought. Born in the vicinity of Ambo and the environs of the source of Awash River in Shewa region, the young Tsegaye was also influenced and shaped by the subcultures, languages and the blending of his Oromo and Amhara heritages. Indeed, as he was to relate later on, he considers himself as one who represented an Ethiopian amalgam or bridge between the two cultures. And it did not take long for this child prodigy not only to absorb Oromifa and traditional Zema and Qine in Ethiopic (Ge’ez) as well as Amharic in the traditional neighborhood church school but also to rapidly learn English in the contemporary modern school or Asquala. Indeed, the young genius, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, was barely a teen when in 1942 (Eth.Cal.), he wrote his first play, The Story of King Dionysus and of the Two Brothers, and saw it staged in Ambo Elementary School. It was watched by, among others, Emperor Haile Sellassie himself.”

And one of our most favorite definitions of Ethiopia comes from our own Poet Laureate. “The Ethiopia of rich history is the heart of Africa’s civilization,” he wrote. “She is the greatest example of Africa’s pride. Ethiopia means peace. The word ‘Ethiopia’ emanates from a connection of three old black Egyptian words, Et, Op and Bia, meaning truth and peace, up and upper, country and land. Et-Op-Bia is land of upper truth or land of higher peace.” No one has put it more eloquently. Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin is a revered soul who brought out the best of his homeland – her stunning peaks and valleys, her triumphs and struggles, and always reminding us to rise and grow into our best selves.

If You Go:
26th August,6:30 pm – Book launch
Historical Plays of Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin (in Amharic)
(Addis Ababa University Press, 2011)
Performance of excerpts by Taytu Cultural Center
Admission: Free
Unification Church, 1610 Columbia Rd. NW
Washington DC

The official biography of Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin Soaring on Winged Verse:
The Life of Ethiopian Poet-Playwright Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin By Fasil Yitbarek
(Tsehai Publishers, 2011)
December 2011 – Book launching (biography in English), Washington D.C.
August 2012 – Book launching (biography in Amharic), Addis Ababa
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