A Peculiar Tragedy

(J P Clark-Bekederemo and the Beginning of Modern Nigerian Literature in English}

By Adewale Maja-Pearce

A Peculiar Tragedy is a critical biography of poet and playwright John Pepper Clark, better known as JP Clark, who along with Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka (all schoolmates at Nigeria’s University if Ibadan in the 1950s) were among the pioneers of modern literature in the West African country. The book looks at their early friendship and literary activities and dwells on how they were all impacted by the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70 and the various roles they played (Achebe was in support of Biafra secession, Soyinka was in prison for his opposition to federal government war crimes, while Clark supported the federal government.)

Maja-Pearce analyzes the impact of the war on the craft and productivity of these writers and concludes that the output and quality of Clark’s work suffered after the Civil War, hinting at the impact of a moral jeopardy. A controversial book, it has drawn varied responses from different sources. Both Clark and Soyinka have voiced their condemnation of the book for different reasons, while other, more detached critics, have hailed it as an important book that provides a useful perspective for accessing the careers and contributions of these important writers to Nigerian literature.

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