Landeg White obituary

Posted on January 24, 2018 in News

By Hugh Macmillan from the The Guardian.

My friend and former colleague Landeg White, who has died at his home in Portugal aged 77, was an academic and poet, one of the most versatile and prolific of the Africanists who began work in the post-independence era.

He was born in Taff’s Well, near Cardiff, the son of Reginald White, known as REO White, who became principal of the Scottish Baptist College, and Gwyneth (nee Landeg). After schooling at Rutherglen Academy in Lanarkshire and Birkenhead Institute on the Wirral, Landeg graduated in English from Liverpool University then began work teaching English literature at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad, in 1964. A product of his time there was his critical introduction to the work of VS Naipaul (1975).

The three years he spent at the University of Malawi from 1969 were decisive, personally, intellectually and politically. There he met his Anglo-Mozambican second wife, Alice Costley-White, and acquired an interest in Luso-African language, literature and culture. Falling foul of the dictatorial Banda regime, he was deported in 1972, but not before inspiring a generation of Malawian poets, including Jack Mapanje, Frank Chipasula, Lupenga Mphande and Felix Mnthali.

Landeg moved on to the University of Zambia (1974-79), where he formed an intellectual alliance with the American historian Leroy Vail. Their two jointly written books, Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique (1980) and Power and the Praise Poem (1991), pioneered the use of work songs and praise poetry in the writing of African history and were hugely influential. He used the same methods for his book, Magomero (1987), the vivid portrait of a Malawian village – the basis of a BBC Timewatch programme.

From 1984 to 1994 he was director of the Centre for Southern African Studies at the University of York, where he organised an important conference on the South African economy after apartheid and waged a three-year campaign for Mapanje’s release from detention without trial in Malawi – the theme of a Channel 4 programme. Moving to Portugal, he taught at the Open University in Lisbon and cultivated a smallholding near Sintra.

He combined literary and historical scholarship with creative writing. The first of a dozen well-received collections of poems was For Captain Stedman (1983), while the last was Traveller’s Palm (2017). His historical novels included Livingstone’s Funeral (2010), and Ultimatum (about the Anglo-Portuguese crisis of 1890), published last October. His translation of Luís de Camões’s Lusíads in the Oxford World Classics series won the TLS poetry translation prize in 1998 and his later edition of Camões’s collected lyric poems was also well received. His identification of Camões as the first global poet, and as a poet “made in India”, had latterly made him a cult figure in Goa.

He is survived by Alice and their two children, Martin and John, by Graham and Louise, his children from his first marriage, to Alison Hinton, three grandchildren and his sister, Glenda.