He was one of the first graduates from the University College of the Gold Coast in 1951. While still a student, Brew participated in college literary activities and experimented with prose, poetry, and drama. After graduation he won a British Council poetry competition in Accra, and his poems appeared in the Ghanaian literary journal Okyeame, as well as several important African anthologies. Shadows of Laughter (1968), a collection of his best early poems, reveals a thematic interest unusual for an African poet: the value of the individual compared with that of society as a whole. In poems such as "The Executioner's Dream", which views with something like horror some of the rituals of traditional African life, he suggests that society, in an attempt to purge itself of the ills of life, robs the individual of dignity. African Panorama and Other Poems (1981) draws upon the sights and sounds of rural and urban Africa. In his collection Return of No Return (1995), he pays tribute to the American writer Maya Angelou and to Ghanaians who may have helped reshape his Eurocentric views into Afrocentric ones.
From Brew's obituary in The Guardian:
Kwesi Brew, who has died aged 79, was a Ghanaian public servant and businessman, and one of that talented generation who came to maturity during Ghana's independence 50 years ago.
Born of a Fante family which played a distinguished part in his country's history, he spent part of his youth under the guardianship of a British education officer, KJ Dickens, to whom, he used to say, he "owed everything". He was one of the first generation of undergraduates at the University College of the Gold Coast, where he read English and became known for his acting talents.
On graduation, Brew was recruited into the administrative service - part of the Africanisation programme to replace the British colonial officers - and was successively assistant district commissioner and then district commissioner, mainly working in the Kete Krachi area. He had to make his way among people who were not used to seeing a fellow African in such a post, but was soon warmly welcomed for his affability and lack of pomposity. Among the challenges he had to face was the imminence of the giant Volta Dam, which was to flood some of the Krachi lands.
Brew was recruited to the early Ghanaian diplomatic service and worked in the UK, France, Germany, India and the USSR, before serving as ambassador in Mexico, Lebanon and Senegal.
Later, out of sympathy with the politicians of the time, he left public service and went into business, first joining his younger brother Atu and working as resident director of the Takoradi Flour Mills from 1975-81. He then developed his own company, the Golden Spoon Flour Mills, based in Tema.
Kwesi Brew was in the tradition of writer-diplomats, producing elegant and elegiac verse. His only internationally published collection was The Shadows of Laughter (1968), but he wrote a compassionate poem on the downfall of Kwame Nkrumah. He is survived by his second wife and three daughters.Brew was published in Okyeame, and four of his poems were included in the 1958 anthology Voices of Ghana. His first published collection, The Shadows of Laughter (1968), was divided into five thematic sections: "Passing Souls" (on death); "Today, We Look at Each Other"; "The Moment of Our Life" (nature); "A Plea for Mercy" (the supernatural); and "Questions of Our Time". His poetry has been characterized as "the poetry of statement and situation".
- The Shadows of Laughter, London: Longman, 1968
- African Panorama and Other Poems, 1981
- Return of No Return and other poems, 1995
- The Clan of the Leopard and other poems, 1996
- Killam, Douglas; Rowe, Ruth, eds. (2000), "BREW, (Henry Osborne) Kwesi", The Companion to African Literatures, Oxford: J. Currey, p. 50.
- Lalage Bown, Kwesi Brew obituary, Other Lives, The Guardian, 10 October 2007.
- Angmor, Charles (1996). Contemporary Literature in Ghana 1911-1978: A Critical Evaluation. Accra: Woeli Publishing Services. pp. 19, 134–43. ISBN 9964-978-20-0.
- Edwin Thumboo, "Kwesi Brew: the poetry of statement and situation", African Literature Today, No. 4, ed. E. S. Jones, London: Heinemann, 1970. Reprinted in R. K. Priete, ed., Ghanaian Literature, New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
- Lalage Bown, Obituary: Kwesi Brew, The Guardian, 10 October 2007.
- How Poems Work #1 - L. S. Mensah on Kwesi Brew's "The Sea Eats Our Lands"
- Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr, "The Tragic Death of the Ghanaian National Memory", Modern Ghana, 18 November 2007.
- Atukwei Okai, "The World View of the Psyche of a Poet - a Tribute to Mr. Kwesi Brew", AllAfrica.com, 22 October 2007. (Subscription required.)