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Tijan Sallah

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Tijan Sallah


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Chinua Achebe - Teacher, Harrow: London Poems of, Wolof (Senegal), Kora land, Dream kingdom

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Tijan M. Sallah (born March 5, 1958) is a Gambian poet, short story writer, biographer and economist at the World Bank.


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Tijan Sallah was born in Sere Kunda, The Gambia, eight miles from the capital city of Bathurst (now called Banjul) on March 6, 1958. He is the fourth child and third son in a family of seven. He attended Sufi koranic schools (locally known as daras) first ran by Seringe Njai, Sering Jobe and Sering Sarr, and then entered Sere Kunda Primary school where he came under several prominent primary teachers such as Harrietta Ndow and Dawda Faal. After passing the common entrance examinations, he entered St. Augustine's High School, run by Irish Holy Ghost Fathers and was exposed to classical British literary texts (Shakespeare's plays, Orwell's Animal Farm, Dickens works, etc.), Latin, and intensive study of the Old and New Testament of the Bible. Although his father, Momadou Musa Sallah (Dodou Sallah), was imam of the local mosque in Sere-Kunda, he did not mind his son studying the Bible, as it was part of the heritage of the Abrahamic religions. His father, a strict disciplinarian, was of noble Tukulor ethnic heritage, coming from a long line of rulers going back to Yelibannah Musa Sall (the Lamtorro or King of Geddeh in Haluwarr, Futa Torro) and Burr Saloum Beram Njameh Njahanah (ruler or King of Saloum) on his grandmother's line. Sallah's mother, Mama Gai, is of Wolof and Serere ethnic heritage linked to the Njai and Mboge clans of Saloum. In Sallah's lineage, also, is Mama Tamba Jammeh of Baddibu, and some links through marriage to the Badjan's, Ceesay's, and Manneh's (Mandinka nobles, Nyanchos).

In the early 1970s, at St. Augustine's High School, Sallah came under the influence of several Irish Holy Ghost Fathers as teachers: Reverends Murphy, Tammy, Comma and Gough. He credits Reverend Joseph Gough as the most influential Irish priest on his education and the mentor who sparked his interest into creative writing. He published his first poem, "The African Redeemer", in the St. Augustine's school newspaper, Sunu Kibaro. Later, he rose to national prominence with the broadcasting of his work in the 1970s in the national radio program, Writers of The Gambia, hosted by Bemba Tambedou. In high school, he also credits several Gambian teachers as influences: Sait Touray, Marcel Thomasi, Foday Jarjusey, Sola Joiner, and Ralphena d'Almeida. From St. Augustine's, Sallah worked for two years as an audit clerk in the Government Post Office and then in Customs Department. There he came face to face with government bureaucracies, and got the opportunity to travel to the rural hinterland of the Gambia (referred to as provinces), in such places as Kerewan and Basse, where, being an urban young man, he saw the meagre living conditions of rural folk and was inspired about rural development.

In the mid-1970s, Sallah came to the United States to study at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School (home of the Foxfire magazine) in Rabun, Georgia. There he attended creative writing classes taught by the American poet Lloyd Van Brunt, with several amateur writers from various parts of the American South. Sallah published his first poem in the United States, "Worm Eaters", a satiric poem about being two-faced in the Atlanta Gazette of February 1978. After graduating with honours at Rabun Gap, he continued on to Berea College, where he came under the influence of several prominent Appalachian writers, Jim Wayne Miller, Lee Pennington, Bill Best, and Gurney Norman. He published several poems and short stories in Appalachian, American, African and European publications and edited several of the campus literary publications. At Berea College, he also came in touch with a distinguished Indian philosopher and literary figure, Professor P. Lal, the publisher of the Writers Workshop series in Calcutta, India, who at the time was a visiting professor of Hindu philosophy at Berea. Upon hearing Sallah read his poetry, he was impressed and requested a manuscript to consider for publication.

In 1980, Sallah published his first poetry collection, When African Was a Young Woman, under the Writers Workshop publication series. It was reviewed on the BBC by Florence Akst and received also several other favourable reviews. Since then, Sallah's works have gained world-wide recognition. He was interviewed by the American National Public Radio in 1997 by Scott Simon and in August 2000 by Kojo Nnamdi. Sallah's writings have received accolades from critics. Charles Larson, the noted American literary critic, said "there is little question about Sallah's talent". Siga Jagne describes him as a writer of "genius". Nana Grey-Johnson describes him as "one of the finest young minds The Gambia has produced in years". Sallah graduated from Berea College in economics and business as the most outstanding student there in 1982 and went on to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where he received an MA and PhD in economics. He taught economics at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and North Carolina A&T University in the late 1980s before joining the World Bank, where he is sector manager for agriculture, irrigation and rural development for eastern and southern African countries.

Personal life

Sallah is married to the Malian Fatim Haidara, a PhD. electrical/satellite engineer, and they have a teenage daughter and son. Haidara comes from the ruling family of Timbuktu which is the custodian of the ancient Sankore university/mosque.


Described as one of Africa's most important poets of the post-Soyinka, and Achebe generation, Sallah writes poems that are evocatively simple and rich. In his poem "Banjul Afternoon", from his collection Kora Land, Sallah captures poignantly the social mood of Gambia's capital, Banjul: "Wolof women passed us, Dignified as ostrich, Chewing sticks in their mouths. Handbags strapped around their arms. They spat at every corner, Trading happiness for hygiene."

In another poem, "Dialogue with My Dead Grandfather", dealing with intergenerational conversations, he wrote: "What I know is that to dialogue with a dead man, You have to die somehow--- Learn the language of death, Or keep communion with the dead. And in this our age So obsessed with youthful living, Death is a word obscene."

Poetry collections

  • Dreams of Dusty Roads: new poems, 1992
  • Dream Kingdom: new and selected poems, 2007
  • Harrow: London Poems of Convalescence, Global Hands Publishing, 2014.
  • Kora Land: poems, 1989
  • (ed.) New Poets of West Africa, 1995
  • (ed.) with Tanure Ojaide, The New African Poetry: an anthology, 1999
  • When Africa Was a Young Woman, 1980
  • Short stories

  • Before the New Earth: African short stories, Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1988
  • "Weaverdom", in Chinua Achebe and C. L. Innes, eds, Contemporary African Short Stories, 1992.
  • "Innocent Terror" in Charles Larson (ed.), Under African Skies: Modern African Stories, 1997, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • "Innocent Terror" in Encounters from Africa, An Anthology of Short Stories, Macmillan Kenya Publishers, 2000, pp. 99–106.
  • Other

  • "The Tragedy of Platitudinous Piety by Bill Best" (book review), Appalachian Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, Winter 1983, pp. 207–208
  • "Summer of Pure Ice by William White", Wind/ Literary Journal, Vol. 14, No. 52, 1984, pp. 90–91.
  • Agricultural tenancy and contracts: an economic analysis of the strange farmer system in the Gambia, 1987
  • "Economics and the politics in the Gambia", Journal of Modern African Studies, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • "My Approach and Relation to Language", Washington Review (August–September 1990).
  • The Senegambia Confederation: Storms in a Teacup, Jalibaa (Washington, DC), August–September 1990.
  • "Phillis Wheatley: A brief survey of the life and works of a Gambian slave/poet in New England America", Wasafiri, 15 (Spring 1992), pp. 27–31.
  • "Words or Rice", Daily Observer, Friday, October 1993, p. 7.
  • The Eagles Vision: the poetry of Tanure Ojaide, 1995.
  • Wolof Ethnography, Rosen Publishing, 1996.
  • "Women of Colour: An artist breaks with Yemen's tradition", World-view: The National Peace Corps Association, Summer 1999 (Vol. 12, No. 3), pp. 34–39.
  • "The Art of Fuad Al-Futaih", Transition, Issue 83, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2000, p. 97.
  • (with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) Chinua Achebe, Teacher of light: a biography, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003.
  • References

    Tijan Sallah Wikipedia