Efua Sutherland: playwright, poet, advocate and activist

Efua Sutherland

To mark Black History Month 2020, we look back on the extraordinary career of one of Homerton's earliest black students. 

Efua Sutherland’s influence has a global reach, but a proudly African focus. As the founder of the Ghana Experimental Theatre, which opened in 1958, she launched the careers of drama practitioners from across the continent. As the founder of the Kodzidan (Story-House), she inspired approaches to theatre which were taken up far beyond Ghana. As a playwright and children’s author she took inspiration from African folktales and incorporated European ideas. As an advocate for children, she enabled Ghana to become the first country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And as a Homertonian, she brought the educational skills she honed here back home to transform the lives of generations of Ghanaian children.

Born in Cape Coast, Ghana, in 1924, Efua Sutherland came to Homerton in 1947 to study Education, making her the first black African woman to study at Cambridge. She followed this with further study in London, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), before returning to Ghana where her career spanned teaching, writing, directing, advocacy and activism.

From the 1950s she was a cultural advocate for Ghanaian children, developing curricula, literature, theatre and film which reflected and celebrated their cultural heritage, and playing a leading role in increasing educational access across the country.

Efua Sutherland died in 1996, aged 71. She is remembered in her homeland through the numerous cultural institutions she helped to create, and the multiple parks and buildings which bear her name. And she is remembered at Homerton as a pioneering and inspirational alumna whom we are proud to call our own.