Awoonor was born in Ghana when it was still called the Gold Coast. He went to university there and went on to teach African literature at the University of Ghana. While at the University of Ghana he wrote his first poetry book, Rediscovery, published in 1964. Like the rest of his work, Rediscovery is based on African oral poetry. In Ghana he managed the Ghana Film Corporation and founded the Ghana Play House. His early works were inspired by the singing and verse of his native Ewe people.
He then studied literature at the University of London, and while in England he wrote several radio plays for the BBC. He spent the early 1970s in the United States, studying and teaching at universities. While in the USA he wrote This Earth, My Brother, and My Blood. Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 as head of the English department at the University of Cape Coast. Within months he was arrested for helping a soldier accused of trying to overthrow the military government and was imprisoned without trial and was later released. The house by the Sea is about his time in jail. After imprisonment Awoonor became politically active and has written mostly nonfiction. From 1990 to 1994 Awoonor was Ghana's Ambassador to the United Nations where he headed the committee against apartheid. He was also a former Chairman of the Council of State.
Awoonor was among those killed in the September 21, 2013 terrorist attack by Al-Shabaab at Westgate Shopping Mall, Nairobi, Kenya. He was in Nairobi as a participant in the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling. He was due to perform on Saturday evening before his death. The Ghanaian government confirmed his death the next day. His son was also shot, but was later discharged from hospital.Works
Rediscovery and Other Poems (1964)
Night of My Blood (1971) – poems that explore Awoonor's roots, and the impact of foreign rule in Africa The House By the Sea (1978)Novels
This Earth, My Brother (1971) – a cross between a novel and a poem Comes the Voyager at Last (1992)
The Breast of the Earth: A Survey of the History, Culture, and Literature of Africa South of the Sahara (1975) Anchor Press, ISBN 0-385-07053-5 Ghana: A Political History from Pre-European to Modern Times