Citation by Moradewun Adejunmobi

Note: Tejumola Olaniyan was nominated for the 2020 award in October of 2019, but he passed away in November 2019. The following citation cites his accomplishments in the past tense.

ALA Members gather at 2015 Conference in Bayreuth, Germany

 

Teju, as he was popularly known, gave freely and repeatedly of the professional success that came to him in six decades of life. He gave to the institutions that educated him, to his own former professors, to his friends, to the work places with which he was affiliated, to the professional bodies with which he interacted, to former and current students, and even to random acquaintances.

A distinguished scholar, he was sole author of two memorable monographs: Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance, (1995), and Arrest the Music: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics (2004). At his death in November 2019, he was working tirelessly on what he often called, “his cartoon book”, that many believed would be a magnum opus on political cartoons in Africa. Alongside preparations for this book, Teju was also project director for the largest online encyclopedia of African cartoons. His many articles were remarkable not only for their sharp perceptiveness, but also for their striking titles. Who can forget such articles as “Uplift the Race!” Coming to America, Do the Right thing, and Poetics of Othering” published in Cultural Critique, or “Contingencies of Performance: the Gap as Venue” published in Theatre Survey, or “The Cosmopolitan Nativist: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the Antinomies of Postcolonial Modernity” published in Research in African Literatures

In addition to his sole-authored monographs and scores of articles in major journals, Teju edited or co-edited five scholarly volumes. That Teju spent so much time editing scholarly books and guest-editing special issues of journals is itself noteworthy, since the time spent editing books that advanced the careers of other scholars undoubtedly slowed down his work on his own books. But throughout his career, there was a constancy to Teju’s intellectual generosity and his dedication to bringing scholars together as part of the process of extending the boundaries of what we know.

The list of service positions occupied by Teju, and through which he worked to bolster scholarship in postcolonial and African cultural studies is too long to be cited in full. He was a longtime member of the Executive Council of the African Literature Association. He served as our 2014-2015 president, using his time as president to update and streamline administrative procedures in the ALA. With Aliko Songolo, he was a co-convener of the annual conference of the association in 2004. When Abioseh Porter, the founding editor of JALA stepped down from his position in 2017, Teju became the new Editor in Chief, who very quickly expanded upon the foundation laid by Abioseh Porter. He served as North American reviews editor for the Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, before going on to become an associate editor for the journal. He joined the editorial board of the African Studies Review, as well as the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, and was a member of the board of editors for several book series dedicated to African cultural studies with university presses around the United States. He served on the executive board of the African Studies Association. Teju was affiliated with two departments at the University of Wisconsin, and did not evade responsibility in either one. Indeed, he would eventually become chair of the Department of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin. He was a founding member of the Fagunwa Study Group in Nigeria dedicated to the study of Yoruba literature and culture.

For Teju, there was no daylight between professional service and intellectual brilliance. He gave of his time, and he gave of his mind. Among friends and colleagues, he was known for his rigor, and for enforcing the highest standards of scholarship. In Teju’s world, friendship and ideological solidarity were no justification for sloppy academics.

Teju, as he was popularly known, gave freely and repeatedly of the professional success that came to him in six decades of life. He gave to the institutions that educated him, to his own former professors, to his friends, to the work places with which he was affiliated, to the professional bodies with which he interacted, to former and current students, and even to random acquaintances.

A distinguished scholar, he was sole author of two memorable monographs: Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance, (1995), and Arrest the Music: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics (2004). At his death in November 2019, he was working tirelessly on what he often called, “his cartoon book”, that many believed would be a magnum opus on political cartoons in Africa. Alongside preparations for this book, Teju was also project director for the largest online encyclopedia of African cartoons. His many articles were remarkable not only for their sharp perceptiveness, but also for their striking titles. Who can forget such articles as “Uplift the Race!” Coming to America, Do the Right thing, and Poetics of Othering” published in Cultural Critique, or “Contingencies of Performance: the Gap as Venue” published in Theatre Survey, or “The Cosmopolitan Nativist: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the Antinomies of Postcolonial Modernity” published in Research in African Literatures

In addition to his sole-authored monographs and scores of articles in major journals, Teju edited or co-edited five scholarly volumes. That Teju spent so much time editing scholarly books and guest-editing special issues of journals is itself noteworthy, since the time spent editing books that advanced the careers of other scholars undoubtedly slowed down his work on his own books. But throughout his career, there was a constancy to Teju’s intellectual generosity and his dedication to bringing scholars together as part of the process of extending the boundaries of what we know.

The list of service positions occupied by Teju, and through which he worked to bolster scholarship in postcolonial and African cultural studies is too long to be cited in full. He was a longtime member of the Executive Council of the African Literature Association. He served as our 2014-2015 president, using his time as president to update and streamline administrative procedures in the ALA. With Aliko Songolo, he was a co-convener of the annual conference of the association in 2004. When Abioseh Porter, the founding editor of JALA stepped down from his position in 2017, Teju became the new Editor in Chief, who very quickly expanded upon the foundation laid by Abioseh Porter. He served as North American reviews editor for the Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, before going on to become an associate editor for the journal. He joined the editorial board of the African Studies Review, as well as the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, and was a member of the board of editors for several book series dedicated to African cultural studies with university presses around the United States. He served on the executive board of the African Studies Association. Teju was affiliated with two departments at the University of Wisconsin, and did not evade responsibility in either one. Indeed, he would eventually become chair of the Department of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin. He was a founding member of the Fagunwa Study Group in Nigeria dedicated to the study of Yoruba literature and culture.

For Teju, there was no daylight between professional service and intellectual brilliance. He gave of his time, and he gave of his mind. Among friends and colleagues, he was known for his rigor, and for enforcing the highest standards of scholarship. In Teju’s world, friendship and ideological solidarity were no justification for sloppy academics.

Teju encouraged us to take the work done by scholars in African cultural studies seriously, and to present them as worthy signposts for literary studies worldwide. It was, he who proposed the idea of prizes for scholarly works by ALA members. Before Teju began advocating for the ALA to create new prizes and successfully shepherding the idea to a vote by the ALA membership, the ALA had only two awards, the Fonlon-Nichols Prize, and the Distinguished Member Award. Above all, Teju believed that brilliance was fleeting and wasted if it was not invested in service and was not deployed for the purpose of building institutions. Given his many contributions to our institutions, to our scholarship, and even to our fellowship and social world, it is only fitting that the 2020 ALA Distinguished Member Award be bestowed on a scholar of spectacular humanity: Tejumola Olaniyan.