“I am not ashamed to say that of all the distinguished sons of Sierra Leone, none is more distinguished in the area of the humanities than the writer whose life story is encapsulated in this book.”
These were among the opening words of the Chairman’s address; Professor KosonikeKoso-Thomas at the launching of the autobiographyof the man he fondly referred to as “the most gifted and impressive academic of our times” Professor Emeritus Eldred Durosimi Jones.
The occasion was more than a launching of the book titled “The Freetown Bond A life under two flags.”
It was for some a brazen display of academic excellence as speaker after speaker went over board to exhibit the highest command of not only the English language, but their wealth of knowledge of the literary arts. Suffice it to say that the gathering had arguably the ‘crème’ of Sierra Leonean academia spiced up with friends and relatives of the Eldred Jones family.
Referring to the venue of the book launch, which was the fabled Mary Kingsley Theatre at Fourah Bay College on Mount Aureol, Prof Koso Thomas said
“In this building, on these hills. It was in this theatre, it was,that Eldred Jones directed and produced many memorable plays. You could say that it was from these hills that he drew his literary inspiration. It was in and around them that he walked his way to academic distinction and it is on them that the imprint of his genius will remain.”
In the book he said Eldred Jones traced “the beginnings and the end through some of the greatest institutions of learning in the world.” Namely the Sierra Leone Grammar School, Fourah Bay College and the University of Oxford.
For all of this education he pointed out, Eldred Jones’“father had to pay. He did not have free education. In the case of his overseas education he had to raise a loan from a bank – quite unusual these days. Through his studies he was privileged to be tutored by the greatest authorities in his chosen field of study he has followed in the footsteps of all of them to become the most knowledgeable in the field of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama and in the field which he made popular and respectable the African literature.”
In the book Prof.Koso Thomas said “They have traced for us the exemplary life of promise and fulfilment of Africa’s most celebrated literary critic and essayist.”
He went on “The book answers most if not all the questions many of us had wanted to ask him all these years but did not have the guts to raise them with him.”
Prof. Eldred Jones he pointed out“set standards at every turn he took on the road to the top of his career, winning prestigious honours awards and worldwide recognition.”
“He tells us in his book” how he did this.“We learn how he prepared himself for that long march to the top, how he became interested in the English language at an early age, how he was attracted to researching Elizabethan and Jacobean literature,
And his work with the society for the disabled, how he dealt with the challenges of losing his sight at the peak of his career and the impressive role of his wife Marjorie.”
Before this book he said “those who were at the outer periphery of his (Eldred Jones) life knew that there was a learned professor who had produced authoritative works in the English language and the African literature which are widely known and read all over the world, … In this book they will find that what they knew skips at the surface of his academic prowess.”
“The book reveals more than his academic prowess, it shows the supreme quality of his intellect the expanse and depth of his knowledge across a wide literary field as well as over the cultures and lives in African societies. His reach extends to areas such as journalism broadcasting and the performing arts.”
Dr NemataMajeks-Walker gave the audience an insight into the life of Prof. Eldred Jones and his wife Marjorie. She revealed the extraordinary bond of their marriage and the support she (Marjorie) had given her husband.
Dr Julius Spencer made comments about how he had urged Prof. Jones to write his memoirs saying he was pleasantly surprised when he had a call to be a part of the launch. He again highlighted the role played by the wife Marjorie and called on all to help persuade her to write her own book.
Passages of the book were read by several distinguished scholars and relatives and friends, including George Coleridge Taylor, Prof MagbailyFyle, and Paul Conton.
Prof Redwood Sawyerr explained a bit about Knowledge Aid Sierra Leone, which is the dream of Prof Jones, to popularise internet access in secondary schools all around the country. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the charity he disclosed.
Prof.Strasser King launched the book saying this event goes beyond the book launch. He said for him it was “the celebration of the life of Sierra Leones literary giant. It is a life worth of emulation of all Sierra Leone’s writers or aspiring writers.” He ended saying that “This book is a treasure that should be put in every public library.”
The writer himself who has been blind for 25 years took the stage and in typical fashion got the audience laughing by poking fun on his adopted daughter Dr Majeks- Walker who had been given 3 minutes to talk but who refused and spoke for more than 3 minutes.
He paid tribute to his wife of 60 years whom he said continued to remind him that there had been something going on for some 36 months earlier. He spoke about how she would strain to get water over the last six years from places as far as Congo cross, and how they had their last electricity bill six years ago. He however said the two services were restored two days before they went to cast their votes. “Such uncomplaining labour” he said of his wife “can only be paid with love and I give her a bit of that.”
Talking about the book he said he has tried to “Look at my family my church my schools and colleges my places of work and the countries I have visited and my country so that I emerge as the product of these larger entities.”
He said further “I have tried to produce something that people will enjoy reading rather than any sequential historical account like Eldred Jones from Birth to decrepitude in one straight narrative line and it is not a personal confessional ire and something that people might have expected to see might not be there.”
He said what he would like to leave with entrepreneurs of Sierra Leone. “We need publishers in Sierra Leone who would take the work of an author evaluate, it accept it for publication and see it through the stages of editing printing binding and marketing and giving the author the due reward of his labours through a royalty that is a proportion of the selling price.”
The book sale was conducted by Ebi May-Parker and copies were autographed by the author.