Thierno has been writing poetry since he was a small child, when, he says, "my head was full of crazy ideas" that he felt set him apart from his society. He has been a wandering poet since his early 20's. He has published six books of poetry, some of which have been translated into as many as seven languages. Today he finds his primary poetic inspiration among rural villagers. "My fate as a poet is tied to the fate of African village culture," he says.
"In a country dominated by the powers of religion and the state," says the poet, "one must believe fundamentally in one's own dream, one's own vision, and find a way to sustain it, like a powerful counter-power."
Thierno Sall, the person, is poignant affirmation of another of De Tocqueville's enduring insights into the transition from Traditionalism to Modernity. De Tocqueville chronicled how democracy in America liberated the individual to pursue self-interest. While this brought great benefits to society for a time, he warned prophetically that there could come a moment when self-interest became selfishness and society would become a hollow rather than a civil place. What will then be required, he might have imagined, are extraordinary individualists like Thierno Sall, who understand that their individual destiny is inextricably linked to that of society. This rich understanding of what it is to be human runs throughout Thierno's poetry, as it does in the perennial African philosophy of Ubuntu, which is best known by the aphorism, "A person becomes a person by means of other people."
This profile [...] prepared when Thierno Seydou Sall was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
Thierno Seydou Sall has been under the spell of poetry since he was very young, when his head seemed to be "full of crazy ideas" that made him stand apart from other people. His poetic moorings are primarily in rural villages, where he has worked for many years with international and local agencies. A "wandering poet," he has nonetheless published several collections of poetry in Wolof and French, among them Kër Dof (The Mad House), Bouffées délirantes (Delusional Outbursts), and L'Envol des pélicans (Pelicans in Flight), prefaced by Senegalese novelist, Cheikh Hamidou Kane. His poems affirm and challenge local, traditional culture and values and call on his audiences, regardless of age, gender or status, to stand up for the environment, equality and social justice, especially with respect to women and children. Thierno Seydou Sall has also worked with musicians-one of whom, Gilel Kumba, a kora and guitar player, visited IUB in 2001. He is now taking advantage of new media, television, radio and digital platforms to disseminate his work.