Oxford Translation Day: A Discussion and Poetry Reading of Abdilatif Abdalla’s Voice of Agony

Abdilatif Abdalla and Annmarie Drury read from Abdalla’s poetry collection Sauti ya Dhiki (Voice of Agony), one of the most important Swahili poetry collections of the twentieth century, and discussed its art and the story behind it. Imprisoned from 1969 to 1972 for his political activism, Abdalla wrote his poems on toilet paper. First smuggled out of prison, they were published after his release, in 1973, by Oxford University Press. Abdalla and Drury talked about the book’s first-ever English version, a forthcoming volume translated by the late novelist Ken Walibora Waliaula and edited by Drury, about the experience, challenges, and rewards of creating that volume, and about the link Sauti ya Dhiki has to the poetic tradition of Abdilatif’s birthplace, the coastal town of Mombasa.


Abdilatif Abdalla is a Kenyan poet, political activist, and literary translator best known for his poetry collection Sauti ya Dhiki (Voice of Agony, 1973), written while he was in prison. He has published literary translations into Swahili (including of Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born), worked for the BBC Swahili Service, and held teaching positions at the University of Dar es Salaam, SOAS University of London, and the University of Leipzig.

Annmarie Drury is a scholar and poet who translates from Swahili to English. She is the editor and translator of Stray Truths: Selected Poems of Euphrase Kezilahabi (Michigan State UP 2015) and the author of Translation as Transformation in Victorian Poetry (Cambridge UP 2015), as well as of many poems published in RaritanThe Paris Review, and other journals. She is an Associate Professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York.