Liberia: Tribute to Dr. Similih Managwalah Henry Cordor, 1946-2023

The late Dr. Similih Managwalah Henry Cordor

By D. Elwood Dunn

I extend my condolences to the family in Liberia and abroad of Professor Dr. Similih Managwalah Henry Cordor, who passed away in Livonia, Michigan, on June 29, 2023, following a protracted illness. Similih Cordor was a prolific writer, freelance journalist, and university professor of English and Creative Writing. He taught English at the College of West Africa (CWA), Monrovia College (MC), and the University of Liberia (UL) before coming to the United States for advanced graduate studies in the early 1980s. In the U.S., he pursued a distinguished career teaching and writing.

Born in Voinjama, Lofa County, Liberia, his parents were Jallah Massaboi and Kabe Kortu Cordor.  His early education was at public schools in his hometown before he matriculated to the University of Liberia’s Teachers’ College where he acquired a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and English.  He later acquired another bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the State University of New York at Albany, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Iowa. In 1979 he was the sole Liberian invited to the Iowa Writers Workshop, a prestigious program that includes Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners such as Flannery O’Connor. His PhD degree which he acquired in 1996, was from the Pennsylvania State University.

I had the fortune of reading a few of Cordor’s publications in Liberia in the 1970s and was aware of his work with ELBC/TV. It was, however, in the United States that mutual interest in Liberia under a military rule brought us into collegial and social friendship. Our common passion for the homeland led us into extensive and intensive collaboration in the academy, as well as several settings in the Liberian and African Diaspora communities. For example, we managed together the publication of the Liberian Studies Association’s journal, the Liberian Studies Journal, I as editor, and he as associate editor from 1985 to 1995. And we journeyed together to many gatherings in the U.S. of Liberians and friends of Liberia in quest of peace during the long years of the Liberian civil war. 

Cordor’s true story has its natural genesis in Liberia where he felt early a calling as a writer. From his first full-time job as director of the Voinjama Extension High School in 1965-66, to his last one in the English Department of the University of Liberia, he combined his teaching with writing. Had he the wherewithal to write exclusively, he may have so opted. At any rate, scores of students in the 1970s at CWA, MC and UL benefited from his teaching and his  creative writings.

Cordor faced problems in common with other African writers of his time – little to no infrastructure to ply their wares or practice their craft, no publishing house, and therefore at the mercy of European and American publishers who showed little interest in the worlds of which they wrote. And he saw his own country, Liberia as Africa’s “cultural stepchild.” And yet he writes that his decision to become a writer “emerged out of my deep conviction that Liberia, which had played an important political role in African history, should also play a significant role in modern African literature.” Rebuffed by many foreign publishers, Cordor decided on self-publishing. “A Guide to the study of Liberian Literature,” 1971, and “Towards the Study of Liberian Literature,” 1972 were the initial results. Such brisk sales of these initial undertakings resulted in several reprints followed. He expressed his surprise of a ready-made audience: “Readers liked my stories because the themes were uniquely Liberian, and Liberians could see themselves, their lives, and the patterns of Liberian culture in my fictional dramatization of Liberian societal and cultural nuances.” In 1977 came “Modern West African Stories from Liberia,” the first anthology of short stories that solely featured Liberian writers telling their stories. The sale of this locally produced book was so good and its use for courses at the University of Liberia so encouraging that Cordor later wrote: “I soon found out that Liberians were ready to read.”

But the civil disturbance of April 1979 followed a year later by a bloody military coup d’etat, placed a damper on things. Two journalistic eye-witness accounts by Cordor ensued – “The April Fourteenth Crisis in Liberia,” (1979, 120pp), and “Liberia Under Military Rule.” (1980, 130pp). Soon a new chapter in Cordor’s life was on the horizon. A junior faculty member at Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman’s University of Liberia, he won one of several fellowships to pursue in the U.S. a terminal degree. Once at Penn State University in the U.S., he first took a Master of Education in English degree as he then pursued the doctoral program. The unfortunate convergence of family issues, the cutting off of funds from a University of Liberia now in crisis, and immigration issues posed major challenges. He sought with difficulty to balance teaching, graduate studies, and writing literature. He completed the PhD degree in 1996. His dissertation topic was “A Comparative Analysis of the Changing Socio-political role and status of western-educated Intellectuals in Modern Africa with particular reference to Liberia and Ghana: A Study of the role of writers, journalists, educators, and other literary and intellectual groups in contemporary African societies.” Among his major engagements in the U.S. were the following: assistant professor of English at Kennesaw State College (1985-1990), adjunct professor at DeKalb College (1992-1993), professor of Humanities and Communications at Florida Community College (1993-2008), and Editor/Writer, The Black Triangle Press, Jacksonville, Florida (2008-2012).

In addition to Cordor’s publications already mentioned here are some others:

“Facing the Realities of the Liberian Nation: Problems and Prospects of a West African Society,” (1980)

“Crises and Challenges: An Analysis of the Tolbert Administration 1971-1980,” (2010)

So Say One, So Say All (1977)

Journey on Lake Africana, 1986

The Cutting of a Leg, (1988)

After Death, the Judgment, 1989

A Farewell to the Old Order, 1991

In the Hospital, 1997

Cordor was a prolific writer, the bulk of what his talented mind produced remains in manuscript form. They include:

Novels such as “Journey through the Land of the Warriors,” “Day and Night on the River.” “This Glorious Land of Liberty,” “We shall Overcome Some Day,” and “The School for the Fools.”

Short Fictions such as “Staying out of the Rain and the Sun,” “Journey into the Night,” and “The Landscape of my People.”

And Poems such as “River of Dreams, Mountain of Hope,” “Songs of my Heart,” and “Artist of the Eternal.”

The experience of exile took its toll on Similih Cordor, as reflected in this poem: 

“My Past, My Present, My Future”

I have put all my past behind me,

It is lying over the hills of Voinjama,

Deep down in the heart of Lofa in Liberia

I am singing my past over my bygone years.

Because it has become my historical self

I have translated my past into my yesterday.

I have put all my present before me,

It is lying in the anguish of my exile,

Far, far away from my people in Liberia.

My present is all I have at the moment.

And I am trying to live it now.

I have spread my present over my today.

I have put all my future ahead of me,

It is awaiting the day I return home.

All the way to my native land in Liberia.

My future is going to be mine someday.

I can see it approaching very soon.

I have earmarked my future for my tomorrow.

As a friend of Dr. Cordor, I played a small role in the securing of his papers and books as he retired from work in Florida and moved eventually to his son Cyril Morluyan in Detroit. I contacted the late Dr. Verlon Stone, then heading the Liberian Collections Project at Indiana University. And Verlon graciously undertook to secure the life work of Dr. Cordor with the other Liberia papers in Bloomington. I can now only hope that somehow these valuable manuscripts can be published, and someone even consider writing a full biography of the man Cordor and his times.

Dr. Cordor was predeceased by his parents, his son Lawrence Cordor, his daughter Florence Cordor, and his wife, Mary Ann Weedor Tellewoyan Cordor. He leaves to mourn his brother Dorbor Cordor, his daughters Evelyn Cordor-Rivas, Alice Cordor and Bordor Cordor; his sons Cyril Morluyan Cordor, and Patrick Cordor, his grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other relatives and friends.

A Memorial Service will be held at noon on July 22, 2023, at the O.H. Pye Funeral Home in Detroit, Michigan, with interment to follow at the Grand Lawn Cemetery.

Rest well Cordor, until we meet again!