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Gboyega Odubanjo, our dear colleague and friend

Gboyega Odubanjo

The enormous outpouring of love for Gboyega Odubanjo, British-Nigerian poet, and his amazing impact on all who met him have been felt within the poetry community and beyond, way, way beyond. Our thoughts are with Gboyega’s family and wide circle of friends at this incredibly difficult time. Everyone he met was touched by his lovely warmth and presence. And everyone who experienced his poetry in performance or through his pamphlets, While I Yet Live (Bad Betty Press) and Aunty Uncle Poems (Smith/Doorstop Books), which won the 2020 Poetry Business New Poet’s Prize, was amazed by his incredible talent, and looking forward to his first full collection, Adam, out with Faber next year.

Gboyega, as Magma Co Chair, was appreciated for his wise head, his generous outlook, and his positive attitude. In board meetings and editorial meetings, he was to the point, an amazing listener, and able to get to the heart of what needed deciding. It is impossible to think that he will not be at the heart of Magma anymore, impossible to comprehend his passing at such a young age – only 27 – but it is possible to carry on his legacy, which we, like many others, will strive to do. His sister, Rose Odubanjo, has set up a fundraiser to establish the Gboyega Odubanjo Foundation for low-income Black writers; at the time of writing, this is well on its way to reaching its £70,000 target which will, no doubt, be exceeded.

On Friday, we had a gathering of the Magma board, all of us on Zoom, where we shared our grief and came together as friends and colleagues. Just some of the thoughts about Gboyega included his “benign calm”, his “ability to connect through distance” at a time when many meetings had to take place over Zoom due to the pandemic, his “deep listening” and his “thoughtful and helpful temperament”.

When he joined Magma in 2019, it was as a co-editor of the Act Your Age issue, Magma 77. A few of us had seen him perform at the Roundhouse. His talent was electric and made a lasting impression. When we wanted a younger poet to co-edit the issue, focused on creating cross-generational engagement within the poetry community, he was the natural choice and we were delighted he agreed to join the Magma team. Not every great poet is necessarily a great editor, nor do they necessarily want to do the job, but Gboyega generously used his skills to encourage and mentor poets, and he went on to co-edit the ground-breaking Obsidian issue, Magma 82, in partnership with the Obsidian Foundation, focusing on Black poets. The launch at Rich Mix in 2021 was such a special and joyous celebration of the talent within the Black poetry community and Gboyega was the charismatic MC that everyone cheered and rooted for.

Behind the scenes, Gboyega was just as committed and inspirational, spending time going through the laborious process of writing grant applications. He always shared any tips or advice, helping other board members with their editorial challenges. He was a delight to work with, the best sort of person to lead any group because he did it with a lightness of touch and a complete lack of ego. His laugh was unmistakable, his good humour boundless, and his friendship invaluable.

Gboyega’s answer to any enquiry as to how he was doing was: “I’m decent. How are you?” He was decent in the best sense of the word, and that decency will be remembered always with gratitude and love. We are blessed to have had him in our lives as a friend, colleague, and leader.

Thank you, Gboyega.



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