José Craveirinha5

Jose Craveirinha as a young man

Pseudonyms are standard in the publishing world. Writers publish under names other than their legal names for all sorts of reasons—to hide their identity or simply because they don’t like their legal names.

But there are others who use pseudonyms because they believe that their message is way more important than their own individual identity. In this case, hiding a true identity ensures that readers focus more on the message than on the writer.

That was the case with Mozambican poet Jose Craveirinha. He was a prolific poet who wrote in seven different pseudonyms at different moments in his writing life: Mário Vieira, José Cravo, Jesuíno Cravo, J. Cravo, J.C., Abílio Cossa, and José G.

I encountered Craveirinha’s work a few years ago when I took an active interest in African literature written in Portuguese—or Lusophone African literature as scholars like to call it. Initially, I limited my exploration to contemporary writers such as Mia Couto and Jose Eduardo Agualusa. Blown away by the rare beauty of their work, I wanted to explore their literary ancestry and, in the process, I discovered Craveirinha’s work.

Craveirinha was born in Maputo in 1922 and came to literary prominence in the 1950s. His poetry explored everything from blackness to family bonds, even erotic love. He lived a long life and wrote for most of it.

When I came across the bit about his many pseudonyms, I was baffled. Most authors who take up pseudonyms are content with just one. Why would a writer need seven?

My sense is that pseudonyms may have been a political necessity for Craveirinha. Early on in his career as a journalist, Craveirinha struck a path of political activism. In the 1950s, he joined organizations that fought for Mozambique’s independence from Portugal, the most prominent of which was the marxist-influenced organization, FRELIMO. It’s very possible that writing under these names gave him a place of relative safety from which to engage with the oppressive colonial power.

His adoption of different pseudonyms could also have been ideologically driven. For someone who styled himself as a poet speaking on behalf of the people, a pseudonym might have been a way of distancing his personal identity from his poetry. He could impersonate the collective, speak with their voice and in their place when he was not speaking as himself but through a different persona.

Craveirinha’s collection of poems is expansive. It includes everything from racial nationalism (negritude) to revolutionary poetry, to love poems addressed to his wife to erotic verses. Maybe the pseudonyms gave him the freedom to explore a wide range of themes and styles. Perhaps these names were a little more than pseudonyms. Perhaps they were alter egos. They allowed him the possibility of inhabiting a different poetic self in order to produce different kinds of writings.

Craveirinha is one of the unsung pioneers of African literature. It is truly sad that writers like himself are relatively unknown across the continent and globally. Craveirinha was the contemporary of Achebe, Soyinka, Gordimer, Ngugi, and others. But because the global literary landscape has always been dominated by African writing in English, writers like Craveirinha remain obscure oven though they helped shape African literature as a global form.


Jose Craveirinha later in life

Craveirinha achieved literary greatness in his lifetime. He wrote poetry all through his life. In 1991, he became the first African writer to win Prémio Camões—“the highest literary accolade in the Luso-Afro-Brazilian world of Portuguese-speakers.”

Craveirinha died in 2003 in Johannesburg. He was 80 years old.

Here is a link where you can read a small collection of his work: José Craveirinha: 34 Poems by Luis R. Mitras


Image 1.  via Tempo Cultural Delfos

Image2.  by Amalviva

Image 3. by Raffi Asdourian via flickr

Tags: , , , , , , ,

I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

One Response to “Find Out Which African Writer Has 7 Pseudonyms” Subscribe

  1. obakanse lakanse 2016/09/01 at 2:52 am #

    Never heard of him.A good job you have done bringing him to some notice In the.coming days i shall find time to to read his work God willing

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Nnedi Okorafor’s Chicken in the Kitchen Wins Children’s Africana Book Award


On October 8th, Nnedi Okorafor attended a ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC  where […]

Adichie Has Some Thoughts About Michelle Obama as a Figure of Black Femininity


As Michelle Obama concludes her 8-year run as first lady, The New York Times Style Magazine assembles a group of […]

Welcome to London | by Lucky Edobor | An African Story


05:40 am. The immigration man’s backside is too flat, even for a skinny white man. It is hard to not […]

Opportunity for African Writers | Entries are Open for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize


Entries are officially opened for the Brunel University International African Poetry Prize. You can now enter your poems for a […]

Chibundu Onuzo’s Brand New Ultra-Chic Author Photos


A week ago, Chibundu Onuzo shared this photograph above on Instagram with the caption: “There comes a time in every […]

Imperialism-in-Artistry: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Win Is Proof Adichie Is Right about Beyonce | by Otosirieze Obi-Young


IN A RECENT INTERVIEW with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, ahead of the Dutch translation of her We Should All […]