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In Praise of a Scholarly Editor: Christopher Paul Youé, 1948-2018

Roger Riendeau and Belinda Dodson

In Praise of a Scholarly Editor: Christopher Paul Youé, 1948-2018

By Roger Riendeau & Belinda Dodson

“A very good editor is almost a collaborator,” according to the internationally renowned Welsh novelist Ken Follet. In a similar vein, the award-winning American children’s writer Patricia MacLachlan adds: “Somehow, great editors ask the right questions … that get you to write better.” Although the roles of a literary editor and a scholarly journal editor are very different,  the perspectives of Follet or MacLachlan about the value of an editor most certainly apply to the late Chris Youe. When he was not the affable and insightful professor of history at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Christopher Paul Youe for the final two decades of his life was a distinguished author and editor of the Canadian Journal of African Studies / La Revue Canadienne des etudes africaines (CJAS/RCEA), published by the Canadian Association of African Studies / L’Association canadienne des etudes africaines (CAAS/ACEA). Professor Youe’s leadership role within the African Studies community of Canada was also reflected in his three decades of service on the CAAS/RCEA Executive, including two terms as President.

Professor Youé’s passion for African Studies was expressed not only in his substantial research and writing – some of which are featured in this collection and most of which are listed in the bibliography at the end of this tribute – but even more so in his inspiring teaching and thoughtful scholarly editing. He enthusiastically devoted four decades of his life to opening up the eyes and minds of his students to the magnificent and harsh realities of the continent that so fascinated him. He was especially proud of the coterie of graduates whom he shepherded into academia to become successful Africanist scholars in their own right. Indeed, so much of his intellectual energy was devoted to helping others to advance their scholarship as beneficiaries of his editorial acumen and as well as his intellectual guidance and mentorship. Professor Youé (he much preferred to be called Chris) was particularly supportive of scholars from Africa, many of whom struggled to get their research published because of a lack of scholarly resources, a plight that motivated him to champion the Books to Africa Program sponsored by CAAS.

Always an advocate for social justice, Chris’ inclination to encourage and even to identify with people in less favourable circumstances is rooted in his own personal and professional experience. Born on 13 February 1948 in Ilford Essex, England, growing up in what he described as a typical east London working class community, the ever energetic and adventurous young Chris made his way to Canada to study at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the early 1970s. Under the supervision of Professor John Flint, Chris completed a PhD in History in 1976; his dissertation was published a decade later under the title Robert Thorne Coryndon: Proconsular Imperialism in Southern and Eastern Africa (see appended bibliography). After the usual course of sessional teaching appointments, Chris’ academic career began in earnest at Queen’s University (1980-84) in Kingston, Ontario and continued at Memorial University (1985-2013) in St. John’s, Newfoundland. While at the time of his hiring, Memorial University on the far Atlantic coast of Canada was not considered to be such a desirable academic destination as the more centrally-located and prestigious Queen’s University, Chris embraced becoming a dyed-in-the-wool Newfoundlander and would enthusiastically contribute to his institution’s rising stature over the next three decades.

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As his academic career blossomed, Chris became more active in the Canadian Association of African Studies. While he had contributed articles and reviews to the Canadian Journal of African Studies and was a regular participant in the annual CAAS Conference over the previous decade or so, by 1989 he sensed that the landscape of African Studies in Canada was changing and could benefit from an infusion of new energy. The pioneering generation of CAAS leaders was either retiring or becoming disillusioned by the declining public support and interest in African Studies, and Chris represented a new generation of young scholars willing to resume the challenge of fulfilling the organization’s stated objectives to “promote the study of Africa in Canada … make Canadians more aware of the problems and aspirations of Africans … [and] inform Canadian policy on and in Africa.” On the CAAS Executive, Chris initially served as the Maritime regional representative for several years before fulfilling terms as Vice President, President, and Past President later in the 1990s. He even organized the annual CAAS Conference at Memorial University in 1997. To say the least, he remained a dynamic presence in CAAS administration in whatever leadership role that he assumed until the end of his life.

Motivated by his “love of books,” Chris agreed to take on the usually thankless function of Book Review Editor for CJAS in 1997. For nearly two decades, he presided over the publication of upwards of 60 book reviews (including review articles) a year in CJAS. He derived immense pleasure from this taxing role for four reasons. First, not only did he have a veritable “bird’s eye view” of current scholarly publishing on Africa but also the reviews offered him a variety of critical perspectives on a wide range of research. His awareness of and access to the most recent African Studies publications motivated him to preside over the adjudication process for the Joel Gregory Prize awarded biennially by CAAS to recognize the best book published in African Studies in the humanities and social sciences.

Second, as he received books from publishers to be reviewed, Chris could not resist the temptation to set aside those works that particularly piqued his interest and assigned himself as the reviewer. He especially liked to write review articles in which he would offer a comparative analysis of recent books (usually two or three) on a similar theme or topic about which he harboured strong views. During his editorial tenure, he wrote twenty-six book reviews (out of thirty-nine listed in the appended bibliography) and six of the nine listed review articles. Indeed, from his editorial perch, he could continually disseminate his unique, insightful, and, at times, provocative perspectives on the discipline that he loved so much.

Third, although he enjoyed fraternizing with some of the foremost Africanist scholars as a result of his editorial role, Chris was even keener about opening doors for young scholars by encouraging them to write book reviews. He became well known for his special presentations on “Getting Published,” attracting a sizeable audience annually at the CAAS Conference and often at the African Studies Association (ASA) meeting in the United States. To young scholars, notably graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, he would emphasize the opportunity to “cut your publishing teeth” by submitting book reviews; and he backed up his words with action as he devoted hours to enhancing a review submission, especially if it was from an aspiring young author. Despite his heavy editorial responsibilities, Chris would always be the first to volunteer to help adjudicate the Fraser Taylor Prize, awarded annually to the best graduate paper presented at the previous CAAS Conference. Of course, he would be euphoric if the subsequent peer review process to which the paper was submitted deemed it publishable in CJAS.

Fourth, an inevitable by-product of his role as Book Review Editor over so many years is that Chris received more books from publishers than could possibly be reviewed in CJAS. Typically, he turned this potential handling and storage curse into an intellectual blessing by launching the CAAS Books to Africa Program. Every year or two, he would pack up several cartons of the surplus books that could not be reviewed along with other donated scholarly books and ship them to an African university library or research centre. The grateful response from the African university receiving the books gave Chris further impetus to keep the program going and growing. Even on the last day of his life (27 November 2018), Chris was hurrying to send another cargo of books to Africa because, in his own words, “he didn’t have much time left.”

In the immortal words of American dramatist Clare Booth Luce, “No good deed goes unpunished”; so, for his impressive work as Book Review Editor, Chris was the obvious choice to undertake additional responsibility as Editor-in-Chief of CJAS in 2010. He insisted that he was not the type to be a “chief” and preferred to refer to his position as “Coordinating Editor.” Under his guidance, CJAS was awarded a $63,000 grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2011 to complete the transition of the publication from a print journal to a hybrid print/e-journal. The following year, he was instrumental in negotiating a publishing partnership between CJAS and Routledge Taylor and Francis in the United Kingdom, thus assuring long-term financial stability for CJAS. He stepped down as Coordinating Editor in 2015 to become “just an Editor,” and three years later, declining health forced him to end his long and remarkable editorial tenure. Also notable is that in the final ten years of his life he served on the Editorial Board of the International History Review and was the Overseas Editor for the fledgling Nigerian Journal of History and Diplomatic Studies until its demise in 2014. Where did he find the time?

It is important to keep in mind that Chris was only “moonlighting” as an Editor and that he continued to be just as dynamic in his “day job.” While performing his voluntary service for CAAS which included a second term as President, he also served as Graduate Coordinator (6 years) and Head of the History Department (7 years) at Memorial University. Besides chairing several Academic Program Reviews for various universities, he was one of the chief negotiators of favourable collective bargaining agreements on behalf of his university’s Faculty Union. Chris was equally comfortable being a servant or an opponent of university administration. As a man of principle, he was always ready to fight for a worthy cause, and stepping on a few toes never deterred him from what he believed to be just. In the classroom, his brilliant mind, his exceptional oratorical skills, and his witty personality enabled him to present his subject with flare, wisdom, and emotion that made him an inspiration to his students. He was perhaps proudest of being acknowledged in Maclean’s special university edition as best loved professor, in addition to receiving the first ever MUNSU (Memorial University Student Union) Award for Distinguished Teaching. It is also fitting that he won the Memorial Faculty of Arts Award for Outstanding Academic Service.

Directions and Provocations in African Studies

Covering a diversity of topics, this article and chapter collection explores key areas of interest and relevance in African Studies. From politics to literature, sociology to media, economics to gender, technology to the diaspora, this select research collection traverses disciplines and advances leading-edge themes. Browse these contributions to investigate new takes on African literature, digital futures, radical and revolutionary change, the middle class, diasporic formations, African perspectives, gender dynamics, and much more.
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The foregoing litany of Chris Youe’s scholarly achievements is truly impressive in its own right. But more significantly, Chris Youe’s scholarship epitomizes the unsung contribution and commitment that so often characterizes the editor of a scholarly publication. This role is seldom acknowledged sufficiently, if at all, in the typical academic performance review at most North American universities. For this reason, most academics will eschew or avoid opportunities to serve as Editors of scholarly publications. As he became more established (some might say secure) in the final two decades of his career, Chris consciously decided to venture beyond the pervasive faculty mentality of “publish or perish” in order to mentor and disseminate scholarly research more widely. The selfless endeavour of editorial service may impose constraints on one’s scholarly output – Chris lamented that he was in the process of writing one more book when time ran out – but as his professional accomplishments demonstrate, Chris had a profound impact on scholars and scholarship in his field in his own way.

Perhaps in time, university administrators will come to recognize the vital contributions that Editors make to scholarly research. Until then, alternative ways must suffice to celebrate Chris Youe’s editorial legacy. CJAS/CAAS, in cooperation with Routledge Taylor and Francis, have compiled a selection of Chris’ writings to be made available through free online access. These writings (consisting of four articles, nine review articles, and twenty book/film reviews – much like a typical CJAS issue) were selected because they are part of the Routledge Taylor and Francis catalogue, and CJAS/CAAS is grateful to our publishing partner for facilitating this free access opportunity. Chris was a great believer in free access publication, and he was extremely pleased with the idea of paying tribute to him by circulating some of his work to the widest possible audience, particularly in Africa. These selected works are included in the accompanying comprehensive bibliography of Chris Youe’s scholarly writing. Chris was always happy to share his insights and perspectives on African Studies, whether you agreed with him or not, and always in the spirit of collegial discussion and debate.

Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines

Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines (CJAS / RCEA) is the official publication of the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS); launched in 1967, it is a bilingual multidisciplinary journal committed to facilitating the dissemination of social science research by Africanists world-wide. It is one of only two international journals in African studies which has consistently published in both English and French. CJAS aims to improve knowledge and awareness of Africa as well as the problems and aspirations of its people, to inform Canadian policy on and in Africa, and to generate public interest in the study and understanding of Africa in Canada.

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