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Osundare was born in 1947 in Ikerri, a village in western Nigeria. In his poem "Farmer-Born," he describes himself as "farmer-born peasant-bred." Osundare's father was a noted village musician, and his paternal grandfather was a diviner-physician.

As a child Osundare would accompany his grandfather into the forest to gather roots and herbs to cure all manner of ailments. An integral part of the healing process was the use of incantations to stir the medicines to life. Thus, he became acquainted at an early age with the power and importance of nature and language.

Osundare attended local Christian schools and Ibadan University, from which he graduated in 1972 with honors in English. From there he moved to England to pursue a master's degree at the University of Leeds, and later moved to Toronto to attend York University, where he earned a doctorate. In 1982 he returned to Nigeria to join the teaching staff at Ibadan University. In 1990 Osundare won the first of two

Fulbright scholar-in-residence fellowships to work at the University of Wisconsin. His second fellowship was to the University of New Orleans, where he became a full professor of English in 1997. In August 2005 Osundare and his wife were among the tens of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans.

The couple were nearly swept away in the flood waters, but they managed to climb to safety in their attic, where they remained for twenty-six hours until a neighbor heard their cries for help and rescued them. Having lost all of their belongings—including all of Osundare's manuscripts—they were homeless for the next two weeks before being taken in by a family in Alabama.

While living temporarily in the family's basement, Osundare received an email message from Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, offering him a teaching position. Since then, Osundare has lived with his wife in Rindge, New Hampshire.

Musicality is one of the most essential elements of Osundare's poetry. In his later work he often includes musical directions because he believes poetry should be experienced orally. He has said: "When I perform in Nigeria, I have a number of musicians backing me up with different kinds of drums. Each drum has its own kind of symbolic message.

The drums are very important as tools of expression and interpretation. Poetry flows, it is rhythm. And the rhythm is in every word, every syllable. My language, Yoruba, is music." Osundare's first published collection, Songs of the Marketplace (1983), evidences these values.

The volume's title is a reference to the vibrancy of African markets, which are gathering places for community socializing as well as places of commerce. Nevertheless, despite the book's implicit emphasis on African music and culture, its individual poems are highly critical of the social and political realities that plague modern Nigeria.

In the poem "Excursion" Osundare presents a litany of portraits of African poverty, and then contrasts them with the callousness of the rich and powerful: "Several government people / have passed through these streets / several Mercedes tyres have drenched / gaunt road liners in sewer water."

In his second volume, Village Voices (1984), Osundare continued to lament social and economic inequality in Nigeria, particularly after the oil industry brought fabulous wealth to the upper classes along with unprecedented governmental corruption and greed through the 1970s and 1980s.

In The Writer as Righter: The African Literary Artist and His Social Obligations, a book-length essay published in 1986, Osundare detailed his thoughts on the role of writers in spotlighting social ills in Africa. With A Nib in the Pond (1986) Osundare returned to poetry, this time with an explicitly socialist agenda, dedicating many poems to such leaders as Fidel Castro and Agostinho Neto. With The Eye of the Earth (1986) Osundare began to address environmental issues in his poetry—a concern that continues throughout his body of work.

In Songs of the Season (1990) Osundare took a different approach, deliberately coaching his poetic observations in simple, accessible language to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. The subjects of the poems are national and international events of the time, in the form of satires, dialogues, tributes, and parables. The poems in Waiting Laughters, for which Osundare won the Noma Prize in 1990, are meant to be performed and accompanied by music.

The work has been described as an "experimental orchestration around a major theme." In Midlife (1993) Osundare turned to more personal subject matter, exploring the arrested development of his homeland through his own experiences as a middle-aged man. Horses of Memory (1998) contains more poems inspired by Nigeria's desperate need for political change and the country's collective memory of its troubles.

In The Word Is an Egg (2000) Osundare's awareness of the power of language comes to the fore, with poems that focus on writing in the language of one's colonizers, the role of words in the formation of personal and national identity, and the social and political abuse of language in the forms of censorship and illiteracy. Osundare's most recent volume of poetry, the post-Katrina Tender Moments (2006), departs from his characteristic focus on politics and social ills and addresses instead the intricacies of human relationships.

Osundare is revered as a poet who examines the social and political condition of modern Africa with musicality and a sense of humor despite his often-grim subject matter. Critics often comment on the human quality of his work, particularly in his evocation of history and memory through the use of traditional African literary and musical elements that appeal to ordinary people.

In a November, 2002 interview for Poetry International Web, Osundare commented on the essential role of the writer in dramatizing Africa's problems: "You cannot keep quiet about the situation in the kind of countries we find ourselves in, in Africa.

When you wake up and there is no running water, when you have a massive power outage for days and nights, no food on the table, no hospital for the sick, no peace of mind; when the image of the ruler you see everywhere is that of a dictator with a gun in his hand; and, on the international level, when you live in a world in which your continent is consigned to the margin, a world in which the colour of your skin is a constant disadvantage, everywhere you go—then there is no other way than to write about this, in an attempt to change the situation for the better."

Principal Works

Songs of the Marketplace (poetry) 1983

Village Voices (poetry) 1984

The Eye of the Earth (poetry) 1986

A Nib in the Pond (poetry) 1986

The Writer as Righter: The African Literary Artist and His Social Obligations (nonfiction) 1986

Moonsongs (poetry) 1988

Songs of the Season (poetry) 1990

Waiting Laughters: A Long Song in Many Voices (poetry) 1990

Selected Poems (poetry) 1992 African Literature and the Crisis of Poststructuralist Theorizing (nonfiction) 1993

Midlife (poetry) 1993

Seize the Day and Other Poems for the Junior (poetry) 1995

Horses of Memory (poetry) 1998

Pages from the Book of the Sun: New and Selected Poems (poetry) 2000

Thread in the Loom: Essays on African Literature and Culture (essays) 2000

The World Is an Egg (poetry) 2000

The State Visit (drama) 2002

Two Plays (drama) 2005

Tender Moments (poetry) 2006