What do writers look like? In a reply to this question Elfriede Czunda, an authoress herself, said “they are more or less prototype of employees.” Her portrait in a pictorial volume once published with the title “Fototermin” has preserved the said authoress and other writers from being forgotten.
The German photographer Isolde Ohlbaum in Munich, referring to the over one hundred fifty faces of writers contained therein, points out that some of the pictures were “with an extraordinary look, to put it mildly.” He further went on to say that “a soft distrust of a man who, for all his life sat at a writing table and, who, suddenly had to be healthy in appearance.”
In the view of the photographer and obviously only a few of the writers were gladly photographed. Wrote he: “even the face of Heinrich Boell was hidden by his hands with the indispensable cigarette.”
It seems true in a sense that writers like to put down their thoughts on any piece of paper, but not that much fond of pictures of their own made by means of chemical action of light on a specially prepared glass plate or film, transferred to specially prepared paper. Far too many people are very keen to see their own face after such a long, long process. But an author? No!
Thomas Mann, whose fame as an author has gone far beyond his homeland, has also been widely known for his brilliant oration and remarkable sayings. According to the memoir of the said German writer, he usually worked slowly but steadily. In the hours between breakfast and lunch, he happened to have done nothing, but writing. Said he: “in the course of time, my organism got used to this timed inspiration and can hardly change this life style.” Thomas Mann said this in May 1955, a couple of days before his 80th birthday and three months prior to his death.
As biographies and autobiographies are of great importance, I think we Ethiopians have to develop this culture too. Who said what, who is who, who did what and what made him do so, etc., are indeed the genres which should be developed in our society. Nowadays we happen to read a few memoirs and also biographies of our distinguished personalities. But it is not enough. We have to work more and make our research public and visible to people.
For instance “Tobia Libb Wolled Tarik” – a fiction by Afework Gebreyesus -, is worth mentioning.
It goes back to the year 1916. It was written some 96 years ago. Here we neither intend to put emphasis on the number of years, nor the fact that the book was written by an Ethiopian. Not at all. “Tobia”, I believe, is the first novel to be published in Africa and the author, Professor Afework Gebreyesus, as several scholars underlined, should be recognized as the first African novelist.
After Afework Gebreyesus’s book, which marked the commencement of modern Amharic novel (African novel one can say) another Ethiopian known as Hiruy Wolde-Selassie came up with a new novel -” Wedaje Libbe “(My friend, My heart). This novel came out in 1923 and has been dealing with manifestations of the conflict of opinions, beliefs, customs, etc., handed down from our ancestors with the spirit of modernization.
The author Hiruy Wolde-Selassie, author of numerous other books too, (bearing the most honorable title “Blatten-Getta ” – given by the Emperor to “highly celebrated people of letters”) was also a great man in the Ethiopian politics. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs until the invasion of fascist Italy and died in the UK during his stay as a refugee following his participation as member of the Ethiopian delegation at the meeting of the then League of Nations, where Emperor Haile Selassie, as the first African, delivered the hitherto cited as “prophetic speech” ever heard in Geneva.
In any case, it is indeed evident that we, Ethiopians, should really be proud of our history and of having great people of the highest caliber to be quoted as the first black or rather African leaders, politicians, freedom fighters, authors, novelists, poets, creative artists, composers and what not. I dare say so, and what about you?