Born Wilbur Thomas Smith, Jr. in Orange but raised in Vaux Hall, New Jersey, Mwatabu S. Okantah holds the BA in English and African Studies from Kent State University (1976) and the MA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York (1982). A Professor and Chair in the Department of Africana Studies at Kent State University, he also serves as Director of the Ghana Study Abroad Program. He has taught at Union College, The Livingston College of Rutgers University, Cleveland State University and Lakeland Community College.
Okantah is the author of Guerrilla Dread: Poetry for the Heart and Minds (2019), Cheikh Anta Diop: Poem for the Living—a limited trilingual edition in English, French and Wolof (2017/1997), Muntu Kuntu Energy: New and Selected Poetry (2013), Reconnecting Memories: Dreams No Longer Deferred (2004), Legacy: for Martin and Malcolm (1987), Collage (1984) and Afreeka Brass (1983). Work has been anthologized in A Poem Demic (2022), Speak A Powerful Magic (2019), In the Company of Russell Atkins (2016), Gwendolyn Brooks and Working Writers (2007), The Second Set, Vol. II (1996) and Soul Looks Back in Wonder (1994). A new work, The View from Stono: Reflections, Reminiscences and Ruminations, is forthcoming.
Honors include the 2021 Alice Dunbar Nelson Literary Achievement Award, a 2019 $10,000 BMe Genius Fellowship, a 2019 Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and a 1988 Rotary International Group Study Fellowship to Nigeria. He has performed as Griot for the Iroko African Drum & Dance Society and as a Guest Artist with Vince Robinson and the Jazz Poets and with the Cavani String Quartet. When called upon, he still throws down with his own Muntu Kuntu Energy Ensemble.
He lives in Kent, Ohio with his wife, Aminah.