Sebhat Gebregzabher, a journalist and novelist known for his eccentric lifestyle and yet adored in literary circles as the ‘father of short-story writing’ died in Addis Ababa on Monday. He was 76.
Sebhat’s golden days were during the emperor’s time, when he was a flamboyant handsome journalist whose very popular weekly columns appeared in Menen, a magazine named after the wife of Emperor Haileselassie. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, he was being schooled in France, where he said he was widely exposed and influenced by the works of great literary figures such as French writer Émile Zola.
His novel in Amharic, Letoom Aynegalign, was translated and published in French while he was living in Paris.
During the military regime (1974-1991), Sebhat was chief editor at then state-owned Kuraz Publishing Agency. There at Kuraz, Sebhat and a few others were ordered by the military regime to translate Das Kapital, the masterpiece of Karl Marx. They complied and translated the monumental book of Marxists into Amharic.
After Kuraz, Sebhat moved to Arat Kilo’s Berhanena Selam Printing Press, where he was writing weekly columns for the Amharic daily Addis Zemen while doubling as editor for the English daily The Ethiopian Herald.
His early manuscripts that he wrote after he returned from France were never published because of their sexually explicit nature.
Nevertheless, his newspaper columns continued to be very popular as they were standing out for being short and entertaining. In literary circles, Sebhat was unofficially adored as the ‘father of short story writing.’ He had a great admirer as well. Novelist Ba’alu Girma, who was murdered mysteriously in the late ’80s by the Derg military regime for his fictional work Oromai, honored Sebhat by writing a biographical novel that he named Deraseew (The Novelist).
A native of the historic town of Adwa in northern Ethiopia, Sebhat’s published works include Tekusat, Säbatägnaw Mälak, Egrä Mängäd, Mastawäsha, and Amist-Sidist-Sebat, among others.
A stern face with piercing eyes may portray Sebhat as an aggressive and trouble-seeking man, but for those who closely know the novelist, he was extremely humble and generous that at one time he shared his home with about a dozen homeless children. He is survived by two sons and three daughters.