2 August 2002

Ethiopia: Ayalneh Mulatu - Poet And Playwright

He is the Deputy Director of the Russian Center for Culture and Science and General Manager of the first independent theatre in Ethiopia. He was a lecturer in literature at the Institute of Language Studies, Addis Ababa University where he authorized his book "Survey of World Literature" in addition to his tremendous effort to initiate the idea and serve as the director of the Cultural Center.

Ayalneh Mulatu was born in Gojjam, Amhara region, on November 22, 1949. After completing secondary school, he received a Diploma in special teacher training from Addis Ababa University. Then he earned Master of Arts Degree in literature and journalism from Moscow State University. He completed his dissertation for PhD program but couldn't go to Moscow because he didn't get permission from the Derg regime.

Ayalneh worked as head of the Culture and Sports Department in the office of Workers Party Ethiopia (WPE). He served also as head of the Theater Arts Department in the Ministry of Culture and Sports. He worked as a radio journalist and highest degree translator in Moscow. Ayalneh has done vast researches, some published and some unpublished, on survey of African culture, survey of Ethiopian culture, literary dictionary and others.

Editor-in-Chief of Gubil, children's newspaper, he has managed and directed various programs for children and youngsters and has staged plays for adults as well. Ayalneh has written many poems in Amharic and Russian, besides translating Pushkin's works into Amharic. He has published four volumes of Amharic poems, not to mention over thirty five original poems published in various Amharic anthologies. He has other Amharic poems, over 80 of them, translated into Russian and published in various Russian anthologies. Ayalneh has also translated for various newspapers over 31 poems written by foreign poets.

I asked him how and when he discovered his talent. "It was my father who inspired me, although he didn't mean that I would be a writer. He was a patriot, didn't know how to read and write. He has a big house which has a pillar in the center and twelve other pillars (wogagras) which supported the walls. My father sat for diner every evening and discussed with his friends on topics like Ethiopian history, love of the motherland, religion ethics etc... I was always attentively listening," Ayalneh says.

"He was illiterate but gave me books to read. He gave me history books. One day he bought Kebede Michael's collection of poems and plays and told me to read. I sort of fell in love with the poems. I studied some of them by heart. When I was in grade 10, I started writing poems. I call the big house my 'Wogagra' University. My mother, who was also illiterate, used to recite poems of her own creation, which is of course not strange to Ethiopian women to this day," he says. He told me that his poems were recited in the school during the flag ceremony.

Ayalneh Mulatu

Ayalneh Mulatu is also a playwright, very well-known among the leading ones, notably poet-laurete Tegaye Gebre-Medhin. He has to his credit twenty five full-length plays staged in various theaters in Ethiopia. He has staged and published two full-length plays translated into English and Russian. He has three full-length plays translated into Amharic. They were staged here in Addis Ababa. The plays are "The Artful Widow" by carlos "The Inspector General" by Nikolai Gogol and "The Marriage Proposal" by Constantine Simonov.

Musical drama, which was rarely staged until recently, is the other achievement of Ayalneh. To mention a few, he has staged Our struggle, Unity, Our Journey, September, Hymn or Song, Step, Adey Flower, Fighting for Life, Why am I a Refugee?, and Yetsom Kuanta.

Ayalneh has, in the past ten years, produced thirty short plays to the public in collaboration with government organizations (ETV and Radio), UN agencies, NGOs and other civil institutions.

I asked poet and playwright Ayalneh his favorite authors. He told me he admired and was influenced by Mengistu Lemma and Kebede Michael. Gogol, Balzac, Tola, Hemmingway, Chinua Achebe, Bricht, Chekhov are his favourites. Ayalneh is of the opinion that considerable leap has been achieved in the genres of poetry and drama. "But what we lack is the absence of influential pioneers who can be pace-setters for young artists. Our theater audiences are not matured enough to give genuine appreciation for the discipline. We really need exemplary writers who can save the arts from foreign dominance," he says. Ayalneh looks forward to making a great leap in the development of theater arts.

Ayalneh is married and a father of two.

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