Tribute for Professor Tejumola Olaniyan -- Full bibliography

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In Praise of a Scholarly Editor: Tejumola Olaniyan, 1959-2019

In Praise of a Scholarly Editor: Tejumola Olaniyan, 1959-2019

By Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́

On Saturday, November 30, 2019 Tejumola Olaniyan died suddenly of an asymptomatic cardiac condition at his home in Madison, Wisconsin, as he was getting ready for a flight to Amsterdam to attend a meeting of the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. At the time of his passing, Olaniyan, Editor-in-Chief of JALA: Journal of the African Literature Association, was Louis Durham Mead Professor in English and Wole Soyinka Humanities Professor at the University of Wisconsin.

During three decades of university teaching and research in Nigeria and the US, Olaniyan consistently produced matchless studies in diasporic African literatures, cultures performance traditions, and popular arts. He also mentored many scholars who have gone on to stellar careers. Olaniyan rendered exemplary service to institutions that sustain the creation and dissemination of ideas and knowledge on Black culture and literature. In addition to the two years he was Vice President and President, Olaniyan served on the executive committee the African Literature Association for several more. He worked on the governing board of African Studies Association for an extended period of time. He also gave exemplary service on the steering committee of Fagunwa Study Group and as faculty leader at Abiola Irele Seminar in Criticism & Theory at Nigeria’s Kwara State University.

Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, African Cultural Studies

Olaniyan published two acclaimed monographs that are permanently in contention. He was in the final stages of completing the third monograph, a book on editorial cartooning in African newspapers, when death called. The encyclopedic website (https://africacartoons.com/) designed to accompany the book is already finished. Olaniyan’s Arrest the Music! Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics (2004) renders a full bore—composition, lyrics, album jacket design, influence on newer music—engagement with the arts of the foremost African postcolonial singer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Fela). The book’s interrogations of received truisms about Fela and his art, many of them self proclaimed, reveals how the body of work captures the essence of the “postcolonial incredible” in ways no other African popular musician did. Olaniyan lays out the reasons thoughtful listeners sang, danced, and wondered along with Fela about the sheer illogicality of how things could have been so wrong soon after formal decolonization. Scars of Conquest (1994) remaps the study of post-1945 Black drama by turning inwards the searchlight of radical dramaturgy on its own critical conventions. The gestures of resistance that define Amiri Baraka’s theatrical responses to the American Civil Rights battles, Olaniyan argues, simultaneously attest and, perhaps permanently, encode the indelible marks that racialized repressions had willed to black performance traditions. The book also patiently analyzes identical patterns in the impact of dialectics of resistance arts in the anti-colonial, anglophone, African, and Caribbean environments of major dramatic works of Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott. Besides the monographs, Olaniyan edited, or co-edited, six other volumes. The historical range and critical depth covered in the ground-breaking  anthology he co-edited with Ato Quayson, African Literature: An Anthology of Theory and Criticism (Blackwell 2007) canonized the most insistent viewpoints that define the field. The other volumes—about music, drama, the postcolonial state, cartoon—usually compiled after a feisty academic conference Olaniyan convened on the subject, explore aspects of the “enchanting” fates of modernity in postcolonial African cultures.

Tejumola Olaniyan was born April 3, 1959 in Omu Aran, Nigeria, where he had his early formal education before proceeding to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). At Ife, he received BA, First Class Honors, in Dramatic Arts (1982) and MA in Literature-in-English (1985).  He earned his PhD in English at Cornell University (1991). He was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study & Research in the African Humanities at Northwestern University (1991-1992). He served on the faculty at Obafemi Awolowo University (1985-1987), University of Virginia (1991-2001), and University of Wisconsin-Madison (2001-2019).

For how well they capture the tenor of Tejumola Olaniyan’s commitments, it is right that the last words in this dedication be those spoken at his funeral service on December 5, 2019 by one of those who know him best, his daughter, Bimpe Olaniyan: “We know the shock of his passing is because of his heart condition, which he lived with for 13 years. In every single moment until the last, the fact of his condition seemed contradictory to the fullness with which he lived his life. He was as determined to prioritize enjoyment as he was motivated in his work and scholarship.” We commiserate with his wife, Moji, and their daughters, Bola and Bimpe.

Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́

Journal of the African Literature Association

The Journal of the African Literature Association (JALA), founded in 2006, is the flagship journal of the African Literature Association (ALA). Its mission is to publish highest quality peer-reviewed articles on the oral, literary, and related arts of Africa and the African Diaspora. Published essays reflect the range of primary materials and critical methodologies that are of key interest to the field . The journal also publishes book reviews review essays, interviews, and forums.

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