(Written back in 2006 at AAU as a graduate school project)Ever since he was exposed to children’s books which his father, an English teacher, encouraged him to read, Bewketu Seyoum, 26, has been hooked on literature.
He is short, wide faced and often casually dressed with a messy beard. He often looks unbalanced perhaps because of the big bag he always carries. At face value, Bewketu does not look at all like an intellectual. His full name means something close to “achieving a height of authority for his knowledge.”
He was born in Mankusa, a small village in West Gojam zone of the Amhara region and went to high school in Debre Markos.
During his high school years, Bewketu occasionally began to write poems. As an 11th grader, he staged his first play entitled “Faws” (Heal) in which he played the protagonist himself. Faws competed at a regional level to stand first and Bewketu won the best actor’s award.
He enjoyed the depth of literature right from his second year schooling at Addis Ababa University where he read psychology for his undergraduate studies. The cultural centre at the university was a grand avenue for him to present his literary pieces for a university audience.
He ushered himself more into literature through the door audience applaud opened up for him. “Applaud helps at the preliminary phase of your engagement in literature,” he said. “But it is immaterial when the author stands on his own feet.”
“All but one of the poems I read out at the centre were written before I joined AAU”. But in terms of learning about the tradition of Ethiopian literature, “my participation in campus youth fellowships of orthodox Christians made a great contribution.”
In the meantime, he intensified his reading on various subject matters apart from psychology which he sees as “one narrow system by which one may explain life.” For the writer, Bewketu believes, a claim of expertise in as many disciplines as possible is a matter of necessity. For him, literature is beyond the limits of disciplinary frameworks; it resides more in life and in itself.
He has published his two books, namely, Nuari Alba Gojowoch (Uninhabited Huts), a collection of 57 poems, and Shirfrafi Tarikoch (Bits of Stories), another collection of 15 short stories. He reprinted the former thrice and the latter twice in 2000 copies at a time.
Bewketu’s short stories and poems are characterised by clarity and brevity. Particularly with his perfectly rhyming verses, he achieves unexpected endings with amazing twists to the stories. As Gezahegn Getachew, a literature instructor at AAU once said: “Bewketu’s biblical allusion in a number of his verses has given his work depth and beauty.”
Bewketu has noticed that he is recurrently criticised for his pessimist view of the world. “Critiques should forward a better insight giving more focus to exploring literary beauty than questioning the writer’s position in life,” he contends. “One’s analysis of pessimism or optimism may show the writer’s view point; nature, however, is neutral.”
Devoid of its original poetic elevation, one of Bewketu’s poems may be translated as follows to see how nature is dubbed neutral regardless of how one views it:
Never complain in the dark
Nor be comforted with the dawn
Nor look upward to beg light from the sun
Our sun begets no light but scorch.
Never say, “It has gotten late”
Into the womb as the sun sets
As it loses life to the stars
Whereas thou cause the eclipse
Of your own light within
That is when it gets dark.
In a way, Bewketu agrees he inspired young writers to live their potential. “I don’t believe I have set a new style though,” he said.
He is excited that young writers are passionately discussing literature. Nevertheless, many appear to conform to similar literary styles and themes. “While it is ok to reinforce existing world views, it is still important to try novel approaches of examining life.”
Some of his writings make Bewketu a controversial figure because they look atheist by content. He remembers how he received a huge condemnation particularly for one article he wrote on a newspaper bluntly denying the existence of God.
In a youth club presentation, one of his friends dealt a blow for beckoning that people have a point in becoming atheists. That initiated Bewketu to write his article “mainly to side a free run of ideas atheists desire to try.”
Fikir Yilkal, an ETV sports journalist, first met Bewketu back in1992/3 when they contested for the regional Question and Answer Competition, which Bewketu won. He befriended the poet at AAU and they even lived together afterwards.
From his observation back in high school, Fikir believes “Bewketu would also make a good playwright.”
“Ever since I first knew him, Bewketu has been in tides of change.” Fikir knows his friend’s religious position has changed a lot but he does not know whether he has become an atheist.
“Bewketu gives due respect to friendship except that he often forgets appointments.” The little chats he enjoys with his friends “easily trigger his inspiration to come up with an amazing creation out of his imaginative observation,” Fikir said.