Wednesday, September 14, 2016

ISIDORE OKPEWHO (1941 – 2016)

Okpewho: World class academic and novelist

By I M Soqaga (South Africa)

Alas! Africa is now experiencing another melancholic situation with its own wordsmith.  Recently it has apparently become usual to see the old-literary pioneers of African literature leaving this world.  Death is now robbing the continent its own noteworthy writers.  However, death is part of human life and is inevitable.  In the event of death Africans are invariably ready to show their deepest respect for the fallen ones.  

Therefore, it is imperatively adequate for Africans to honour their own literary giants when they are alive, and even afterwards.  Of course their contribution in African literature continues to make Africa invaluable in the world, so they deserved to be acclaimed and celebrated.

For decades African literary pioneers and catalyst played a magnificent role in the evolution of African literature.  Their enchanting energy and the flair they demonstrated over the years is vividly awesome.  These are writers who denied the foreign influence to overpower them.   With pride and determination, they courageously refused to be instructed about their heritage and themselves.  Instead they lead the way and show the world that equally they are excellent to vie for any literary principal awards in the world of letters.

Today! Yes today Africa is mourning the demise of one of its own literary wordsmith Isidore Okpewho.  They are not mourning in despair but with the great delight in celebrating the life and times of Professor Isidore Okpewho.  Certainly-his death left the African continent reeling with profound devastation.  When one ponder about his absolute commitment in advancing and propagating African literature.  Surely, his demise is the great loss to African continent.   

Professor Okpewho grew up in Asaba where he attended St. Patrick’s College.  He went on to graduate with first class honors in classics at the University of Ibadan in 1964 where he won the classics departmental prize and the College scholarship.  One should take into consideration how the University of Ibadan produces remarkable giants of African literature over the years.  Great names like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ike, Saro Wiwa, Labanji Bolaji, Osundare, Amadi Elechi, Isidore Okpewho, etc to name but few are alumni of the University of Ibadan.

For decades Isidore Okpewho had contributed immensely in African literature.  Being well known abroad and among other things his literary prowess is wonderfully revered in the world of letters. The world and Africa cannot ignore the fact that Okpewho contribution in literature as well as other acclaimed literary wordsmith of African continent, made Africa popularly recognised. 

There is a lot of wealth of knowledge that can be procured from Isidore’s literary achievement.  In Pan African context Okpewho’s legacy needs to be adored as the radiant light that illuminate unremitting throughout African continent and in Diaspora.  For the fact that books nowadays are becoming scant in Africa and that in advance countries of the West books in particular African literature are relished with great enthusiasm.  Astonishingly, in the past in Africa, books were fervently appreciated with great glee but today, alas the ardent eagerness is waning.   

It is rather complicated to understand why books especially the avalanche of literature that is produced by African writers is hardly available in African libraries, while Western materials are significantly available in large quantity in African libraries.  It is delusion to believe that only few famous books about African literature we notice in libraries are only books produced by African writers.  The conspicuous reality is that colossal number of books Africans writers cultivated is enormously great however their unavailability in the public libraries of Africa is shockingly disappointing.  I don’t think Prof. Okpewho would be impressively chuffed at this scandalous situation that is prevailing in Africa.  How one will ameliorate literacy while books are not available for people to read?  In order for people to be educated they need books, children need books as well as society at large.

Professor Isidore Okpewho graduated from the University of London, and from the University of Denver with a Ph.D. in Comparative literature, and from the University of London with a D.Lit. in the Humanities.  He taught at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York from 1974 to 1976, University of Ibadan from 1976 to 1990, Harvard University from 1990 to 1991 and Bighamton University.  Prof.  Okpewho died peacefully at a hospital in Bignhamton. For his creative writing work, Okpewho won the 1976 African Arts Prize for Literature and 1993 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Africa. His four novels, “The Victims, The Last Duty, Tides, and Call me by my Rightful Name” are widely studied in Africa and other parts of the world, with some of them translated into major world languages. 



·       *         The Victims, Longman, 1970
        The Last Duty Longman, 1976; Longman, 1986
        Tides, Longman, 1993, 
        Call Me By My Rightful Name, Africa World Press, 2004,

        The Epic in Africa: Toward a Poetics of the Oral Performance, Columbia University Press, 1979 
        Myth in Africa: A Study of Its Aesthetic and Cultural Relevance. CUP Archive. 1983
        African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character, and Continuity. Indiana University Press. 1992
        Once Upon a Kingdom: Myth, Hegemony, and Identity. Indiana University Press. 1998

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