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Laureate Tsegaye

GebreMedhin

August 1936 - February 2006


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Donald N. Levine, zwH Wax and Gold and Greater
Ethiopia, H H JexwB "" speaking especially of the 1960s and earlierthat books about Ethiopia were either
banned or boring. It is evident that the very high count of bannings
and censorships meted out to Tsegayes plays and other writings indicates how the powers that be from the 1950s through the 1990s felt
threatened by the potency, popularity and impact of his pen. If such
was the reaction of officialdom to his plays and other writings what
about the people at large about whom and for whom Tsegaye wrote his
plays? Tsegayes plays have been extremely popular as far as rank and
file audiences are concerned, and when allowed by the authorities to
run their courses some of them have been on stage longer than any
other plays in Ethiopian theatre. His use of highly sophisticated language has often made his writing sometimes enigmatic and brain
twister for many. One may surmise that a good number of theater audiences at Tsegayes plays are repeat participants who follow up the
challenge of the plays that stimulate and beckon cerebral understanding and emotional satiation. Reidulf K. Molvaer says he had a rough
time interviewing Tsegaye for his impressive profiles of Ethiopian
writers entitled Black Lions (1997) because, among other things, Tsegaye preferred to talk about Ibsen rather than about himself. Nevertheless, Molvaer asserts that the plays by Tsegaye that I have seen on
the stage are performed with great brilliance; the acting, the decorations, the musiceverything has been well done. Although no serious
critical follow-up is yet to emerge in Ethiopia on the subject, there is
muted recognition that poet Tsegaye has in fact generated an Amharic
poetic form or genre called Sementyosh Qine or Yetsegaye Bet. We
await experts in the field to decipher, elaborate and interpret this subject to interested but lay readers. And perhaps a school of thought may
develop around his literary legacies. In her July, 1997, interview in
Addis Ababa with poet Tsegaye that appeared in Ethiopian Review
(Oct. 1998), Ms. Wendy Belcher cited professor Jane Plastow, formerly of the Department of Theater Arts of Addis Ababa University,
who stated that Tsegaye initiated a new, serious, highly poetic style
for Ethiopian drama, but most importantly, a style no longer concerned with Church and morality and the exploits of the aristocracy,
but with the evils of life as experienced by the poor.
8

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