May Ayim

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May Ayim (3 May 1960 in Hamburg – 9 August 1996 in Berlin; original name: Sylvia Opitz) was an Afro-German poet, educator, and activist.

Early life[edit]

May Ayim was the daughter of Ursula Andler and Emmanuel Ayim. Her father, a Ghanaian medical student wanted to have her raised by his childless sister, but German law denied him any say in the matter as he was not married to her mother. After a brief time in a children's home, she was adopted by the Opitz family, who raised her with their biological children. She had an unhappy childhood, as her strict adoptive parents used violence to control what they regarded as her deviant behaviour. This was a matter she took up later in some of her poems.[1] While May Ayim maintains that she was thrown out of the family home at the age of nineteen, this is denied by the family. She still kept in touch with the Opitz family. That same year she graduated from Friedenschule, the Episcopal School in Münster having passed her Abitur. She attended teacher training college in Münster, specialising in German and Social Studies. She then attended the University of Regensburg, majoring in Psychology and Education. During this period she traveled to Israel, Kenya and Ghana, renewing her relationship with her biological father, now a professor of Medicine.


Her thesis written at the University of Regensburg, "Afro-Deutsche: Ihre Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte aus dem Hintergrund gesellschaftlicher Veränderungen" (Afro-Germans: Their Cultural and Social History on the Background of Social Change), was published in Farbe Bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (and published in English as Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out) a book she edited with Katharina Oguntoye and Dagmar Schultz. At this time she also co-founded the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (Initiative of Black People in Germany).

After a visit to Ghana, where she met her paternal family she returned to Germany and trained as a speech therapist, writing her thesis on ethnocentrism in the discipline. After more travels, she settled in Berlin, lecturing at the Free University of Berlin. It was at this time that she adopted her father's name Ayim as her pen name. She was active as an educator and writer, taking part in many conferences and publishing Blues in schwarz-weiss (Blues in Black and White).[2]


After spending sometime without sleep or proper meals preparing for Black History Month in 1996, she suffered a mental and physical collapse. She was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Auguste Viktoria Hospital in Berlin in January 1996. Despite regular visitors she remained despondent and when her vision problems were examined the doctors came up with diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Her medication for psychosis and neuroleptica was stopped and she was discharged in April 1996. She still suffered from depression and was readmitted in June, following a suicide attempt. Discharged again in July, she killed herself by jumping from the thirteenth floor of a Berlin building.[3]

Cultural references[edit]

May Ayim's poem "They're People Like Us" is cited in Paul Beatty's 2008 novel Slumberland.


  1. ^ May Ayim: A woman in the Margin of German Society by Margaret MacCarroll, p3
  2. ^ Excerpt of Blues in Black and White by May Ayim, at BlackAtlantic [1]
  3. ^ Ayim, May (2007). "The Year 1990:Homeland and Unity From an Afro-German Perspective". In Göktürk, Deniz; Gramling, David; Kaes, Anton. Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration, 1955-2005. Weimar and Now:German Cultural Criticism 40. University of California Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-520-24894-6.