A pioneer in and a father of modern ( informal) essay in Ethiopia



By Alem Hailu


The Ethiopian Writers Association (EWA) had recently organized a special event to honor a prolific and veteran author that has stamped a gargantuan footprint on Ethiopian literary history.


Mesfine Habte Mariam is one of the two Ethiopian elites that in the mid of 1960s E.C stood the rare fortune of learning Creative Writing abroad– at British Colombia University in Canada.


A good number of the senior language and literature instructors at A.A.U are his students.


Up on return, Mesfine opted not to remain a paper tiger confining his activities to lecturing about Creative Writing at Addis Ababa University (A.A.U) (the then Haileselassie University), where he taught for over 13 years (1963 E.C to1976 E.C).


As such unleashing his talent of writing, well backed by a state-of-the-art education, in a course of over three decades, as heads of EWA and researchers citing MA and Ph.D students’ works on the occasion noted, Mesfine had produced over five hundred informal essays that predominantly revolve around social issues:culture, development, education, Art(photo,music…) and pretentious people. He still writers.


The theme of over half of his pieces being society signifies his closeness to the society.

As a torch bearer he is a writer who took a step ahead from fellow citizens, to the heart beat of which he has calibrated his pen. As the saying goes a writer’s life is a mirror reflection of the society he lived in, from Mesfine’s works it is possible to decipher facts on the ground during his era.

He draws attention to important things people fail to notice or downplayed.


Nudging them out of their slumber he makes readers pay heed to their day to day life and have a psychological perspective. Some of his essays are deliberately left open ended so that readers could fill the gap.


He tells readers about his observations,astonishment and views. Not opting for complicated plots, borrowing instances from the life of ordinary people he tells readers stories that stir deep feelings.


As some assert, next to religion, a white paper, writers jot their ideas on, has the power of shaping people. True to this fact Mesfine authors pieces that help readers or listeners swallow the bitter pill of life with honey trickling down his pen.


His works tell on his probing power and the mightiness of his pen in reforming society. His flowery sentences are neither short nor long. Figurative speeches are at the tip of his fingers. He is a writer who could elegantly put on paper the ideas that loiter in his mind. The fine-tuning of the title and the body of Mesfine’s pieces is what strikes many. The characters he paints have contrasting behaviors.


According to his contemporaries he is comfortable of writing under any circumstance. He could write taking liquor or otherwise.


Mesfine was born in1935 E.C in Mojo. It was in Mojo and Ambo he attended his elementary and high School education. He got his B.A in Ethiopian Language and Literature From A.A.U in 1962. Mesfine had also taught Amharic in Eriteria.


The declining of his age notwithstanding, he is still writing to eke out a living. Yet the conspiracy of illness and old age has resulted in the faltering of his pen ,in which he vests great hope .


Asked about how he developed the bent for writing, Mesfine attributed his lust for writing to his mother,his inspiration for authorship to his high school teacher and his reading and observing habit to the renowned journalist Pawlos Gnogno .


Also the poetry contests and contests on other genres being organized at A.A.U while he was a student there had wielded a great influence on him.


Mesfine who likes reading and reflecting deep is also a translator. In radios ,magazines and news papers he has entertained and informed many via his innumerable literary pieces original and translated.


Among his works only few are compiled in a book form. Yebuna Bet Siloch (Paintings drawn on the walls of Bars) Awde Amete (Holiday) Yelelit Dimtsoch (Voices of the Night) have thirty,ten and twelve informal essays respectively. Yebuna Bet Siloch that mocks the lack of dimension of the paintings are among the works that let him elbow his way into the hearts of readers.


He has a book entitled “Azeb” bearing a collection of short stories.

As a critic Mesfine Habtemariam has presided over and actively participated in book review programs.


A pioneer in and a father of informal essay in Ethiopia , an instructor, an author of short stories, a translator and a critic the versatile Mesfine has rendered invaluable service for his country.


While M.A student in Canada he had managed to get a short story entitled “The Missing Gray” published in the reputed book Prism International. The only Ethiopian to get published in this book he has thus played an ambassadorial role to his country. Herald in due course of time will let you read this short story, that demonstrated Ethiopian authors prowess in the medium of English Language.


Mesfine is an unsung literary giant.


He has six children. He is knowledgeable and popular.



Sad as it may sound, now his health in bad shape he is running out of financial means. Asked about which of his unpublished works he wants to see in print Mesfine said “My novella ‘The Merchant of Fear’, for want of money that is not yet published .Apart from entertaining purpose it could serve a good language teaching material. If this brain child of mine sees the day’s light I am sure the rest will easily enjoy a similar chance. ”


After receiving a trophy of honor from EWA , attired in gilded royal robes, expressing the feeling the event organized in his honor created on him Mesfine said “ My heart is brimming over with ecstasy that defy description. Though I am emaciated due to sickness this event organized by EWA serve me as a moral boost and inducement. The love and moral readers pump authors with lend authors, like myself, a stamina for another mile.


Responding to the question posed by one of the researchers regarding why Mesfine backpedaled from writing poems after actively participating to the extent of winning a prize in radical students’ poetry contest prior to the revolution.


Mesfine said “ I was aspiring to be a play write. At the beginning my effort was scattered. But after I received my M.A I got more focused on informal essays and short stories. Of course as a writer I tried my hands on poems.

While we were young it was a custom for boys to write poems to their girl friends. It was that way boys win the favor of their beloved girls. And as such I was approached by many for poems of such nature. I wrote some of them as a favor. My poems have led many into a wedlock.”


As a good gesture of helping the publication of “ The Merchant of Fear” on the occasion one author had handed over a Cheque to Ato Mesfin .Nothing gratifies authors than seeing their brainchild hence there is a call for helping this great author.


EWA is doing a commendable task drawing attention to the works of renowned authors before they cross the river of death, for readers will have something to hear from the horse’s mouth.




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