Ulli Beier

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Chief Horst Ulrich Beier, known as Ulli Beier (30 July 1922 – 3 April 2011), was a German Jewish editor, writer and scholar, who had a pioneering role in developing literature, drama and poetry in Nigeria, as well as literature, drama and poetry in Papua New Guinea. His second wife, Georgina Beier,[1] born in London, had a similarly instrumental role in stimulating the visual arts during their residencies in both Nigeria and Papua New Guinea.

Early life and education[edit]

Ulli Beier was born to a Jewish family in Glowitz, Weimar Germany (modern Główczyce, Poland) in July 1922. His father was a medical doctor and an appreciator of art, who reared his son to embrace the arts. After the Nazi party's rise to power in the 1930s, his father was forced to close his medical practice. The Beiers, who were non-practising Jews, left for Palestine.

In Palestine, while his family were briefly detained as enemy aliens by the British authorities, Ulli Beier earned a BA as an external student from the University of London. He later moved to London to earn a graduate degree in Phonetics. He found veterans were being given precedence in academic jobs and searched widely for a position.

Marriage and family[edit]

He married the Austrian artist Susanne Wenger. In 1950 they both moved to Nigeria, where Ulli Beier had been hired at the University of Ibadan to teach Phonetics. They divorced in the early 1960s.

Beier married the artist, Georgina Betts, an Englishwoman from London who was working in Nigeria. In 1966 when the civil war broke out between Biafra and the federal government, they left the country and moved to Papua New Guinea.


While at the university, Beier transferred from the Phonetics department to the Extra-Mural Studies department. There he became interested in traditional Yoruba culture and arts. Though a teacher at Ibadan, he ventured beyond it, living in the cities of Ede, Ilobu and Osogbo, to learn more about the Yoruba communities. Due to his subsequent anthropological work among the members of the clans that are native to these places, he was awarded Yoruba honorary chieftaincies. In 1956, after visiting the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris organized by Présence Africaine at the Sorbonne, Ulli Beier returned to Ibadan with more ideas.

In 1957 he founded the magazine Black Orpheus. Its name was inspired by "Orphée Noir", an essay that he had read by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre. The first African literary journal in English, it quickly became the leading venue for publishing contemporary Nigerian authors. It became known for its innovative works and literary excellence, and was widely acclaimed. Later in 1961, Beier co-founded the Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan, a place for new writers, dramatists and artists, to meet and perform their work. Among the young writers involved with it in the exciting early years of Nigerian independence were Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. In 1962, with the dramatist Duro Ladipo, he co-founded Mbari-Mbayo, Osogbo.

Ulli Beier was also known for his work in translating traditional Nigerian literary works into English. He emerged as one of the scholars who introduced African writers to a large international audience. He translated the plays of such Nigerian dramatists as Duro Ladipo and published Modern Poetry (1963), an anthology of African poems.

Beier and Wenger divorced. In 1966, he and his second wife, the artist Georgina Betts from London, left Nigeria during the civil war to work in Papua New Guinea. Beier intermittently returned to Nigeria for brief periods. While in Papua New Guinea, he fostered budding writers at the University of Papua New Guinea, and his wife Georgina Beier continued the work she had been doing in Nigeria, recognising and encouraging New Guineans in their visual art.

Beier found international venues for taking the native artwork to the world. In New Guinea, he founded the literary periodical Kovave: A Journal of New Guinea literature. It also carried reproductions of works by Papua New Guinean artists, including Timothy Akis and Mathias Kauage.[2] His efforts have been described as significant in facilitating the emergence of Papua New Guinean literature.[3] While in Papua New Guinea, Beier encouraged Albert Maori Kiki to record his autobiography, which Beier transcribed and edited. The book, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime, was published in 1968.[4]

In the early 1980s Beier returned for a time to Germany, where he founded and directed the Iwalewa Haus, an art centre at the University of Bayreuth.

Beier lived in Sydney, Australia, with his wife Georgina Beier. He died at home in the Annandale neighborhood, at the age of 88, on 3 April 2011.

Published works[edit]

  • Voices of Independence: New Black Writing from Papua New Guinea, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980. 251 pp.
  • Joint editor with Gerald Moore: Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, (1999).
  • Black Orpheus: An Anthology of New African and Afro-American Stories, 1965.
  • Thirty Years of Oshogbo Art, Iwalewa House, Bayreuth, 1991.
  • Contemporary Art in Africa, Pall Mall Press, London, 1968; published in German as Neue Kunst in Afrika: das Buch zur Austellung, Reimer, Berlin, 1980.
  • "A Year of Sacred Festivals in One Yoruba Town", Nigeria Magazine, Lagos, Nigeria: Marina, 1959.


  • Beier, Ulli. Literature Online biography. Published in Cambridge, 2005, by Chadwyck-Healey.
  1. ^ Georgina Beier, official website
  2. ^ "Imagining Papua New Guinea", National Gallery of Australia
  3. ^ "English in the South Pacific", John Lynch and France Mugler, University of the South Pacific
  4. ^ Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime, F. W. Cheshire Publishing Pty Ltd, 1970.

External links[edit]