Remembering Teju Olaniyan
Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́, PhD, English Department Ohio State University
These are Teju's last words to me in a voice mail message I shall not erase. That basso profundo voice meant a lot. I miss it. When Teju asked about my wellness, I knew he was not merely going through cultural motions. He seriously wanted to know. Allow me therefore to use his own words in this tribute. Here it is:
Last Message In Basso Profundo
(7:59 PM | 4 November 2019)
Huh, sorry o, huh,
Hope you’re well
Then, a ṣì ma catch up
Huh, I'll try you again.
Again, this is Tẹjú
Hope you ‘re well.
Bá mi kí everybody there too.
All right. Bye!
Ainehi Edoro, Assistant Prof. Global Black Literatures, UW-Madison
I still have no words to describe the pain of Teju’s passing, but I find consolation in the powerful legacy he left behind. Teju’s work has inspired a generation of scholars and will continue to do so because of how daring a thinker he was. His research and writing on African literary discourse shaped the field and continues to bring visibility to African literature in all its diversity. In the months after his passing, walking by his office in the English department would often make me deeply sad and rekindle feelings of loss. But it also brought joyful recollections of Teju as a colleague: his kindness, his booming laughter, how he brought an uncommon wisdom to difficult situations, and made everyone he encountered feel seen and heard. Teju, dear friend and trusted mentor, I miss you!
Akin Adesokan, Associate Professor, Indiana University Bloomington
Memory is the master of death. Every day I remember a kid sister, born just after me, who died at two in 1971. How much more a man of impressive character and singular generosity whom I associated with very closely for nearly thirty years, as informal teacher, mentor, friend, and “next of kin.” For much of summer 2020, when we lived indoors at the mercy of COVID-19, I had the rare privilege of reviewing some of the archives of TJ’s scholarship. He lived with me through those days and I heard his voice through his writings, especially the “proposals” for which the speaking self is indispensable. I could not forget him even if I did not have his writings in my view. I have dreamt about him a few times; on waking up each time I distinctly heard his conversational tic, the habitual humming, that unfailing signal of his considerateness, his thoughtfulness, his deliberativeness. Memory is the master of death. The dead are never gone. TJ left a space that can never be filled. He remains indispensable, to me and, I imagine, to those who knew him well.
Aliko Songolo, Professor Emeritus [French Studies and African Cultural Studies] UW Madison
I knew Tejumola Olaniyan for a far too short two decades. In that time, I learned gradually that his spheres of influence and zones of (inter)action were numerous. To fathom the depth and breadth of his involvements reminds one of the old but perennial story of the blind men and the elephant: What you see is far less than what there is. His website reads, “My deep interest is transdisciplinary teaching and research.” This deceptively candid mission statement belies the strength of a Workhorse and the wisdom of a Magus. For Teju, teaching, service, and scholarship were all intermingled into a singular and very complex intellectual project. The other side of the elephant evinced a man, human to a fault, generous, an attentive friend, a solicitous brother. Teju lives on in my heart and mind.
Anja Wanner, Eccles Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Teju Olaniyan, Louise Durham Mead Professor of English and Wole Soyinka Professor of the Humanities, was a groundbreaking figure and world-renowned scholar in the fields of Anglophone literatures and cultures of Africa and African Diaspora studies. He was also a beloved and inspiring colleague, teacher, and mentor. There was so much to learn from him, even for those, who, like me, do not work in any related field. He showed us how to be an interdisciplinary thinker at the highest level, synthesizing perspectives from literary theory, theater studies, popular culture studies, sociology, political science, and anthropology. He showed us how to bring people together, not just for academic endeavors, and how to empower the next generation of scholars. He made sure that the fields important to him would be institutionally recognized and provided with resources. In addition to bringing international renown to UW-Madison through his contributions to decolonial scholarship, Teju also served the university as an innovative leader, including as interim Director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities, and as a cornerstone in our department’s cluster hire in Global Black Literatures. By setting up the next generation of scholars for success, he has shaped the face of the humanities not only at UW-Madison. I miss the adventurous thinker as much as the trusted colleague and invested community builder. I especially miss Teju’s voice commanding our attention and the generosity of mind he brought to every interaction.
Aparna Dharwadker, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
I had become aware of Teju’s work on postcolonial African and Caribbean theatre in the mid-1990s, through journal articles and the publication of Scars of Conquest, Masks of Resistance, and had found the acuity and brilliance of his critical positions especially enabling as I managed my own scholarly transition from the British eighteenth century to late-twentieth century transnational movements. It was a wonderful surprise, then, to discover in the Spring of 2001 that we would be moving to UW-Madison at the same time, in Fall 2001. We met for the first time over lunch in October that year, and what began with that characteristically whimsical conversation was a professional association and a friendship in which common intellectual interests went along with true collegial generosity and kindness on Teju’s part. When my book on post-independence Indian theatre appeared in 2005, it carried a blurb from him on the back cover, because he was uniquely positioned to place it in an emerging comparative field. Teju and I focused on very different parts of the world—he on Africa and the transatlantic African diaspora, I on South Asia and the global South Asian diaspora—but we gave the same priority to authors, languages, and cultural forms within the complicated sociopolitical contexts of our respective regions. We seemed to agree instinctively that theories of various kinds are most useful when they can describe rather than merely prescribe practice. We also saw the excesses of the postcolonial nation-state as a more urgent problem in the present than the determinisms of colonial discourse in the past. So two of Teju’s books—Arrest the Music! Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics, and State and Culture in Postcolonial Africa--were especially groundbreaking works for me. These overlapping interests took us to some of the same conferences, journals, colloquia, and discussion forums (including the Postcolonial Literature Forum in the English department), and arguing with Teju was always a special kind of fun.
His presence as a colleague for eighteen years made my experience in Madison much richer, but I also want to acknowledge a deeper debt. During the difficult reorganization of Humanities departments and programs on our campus in 2013-14, it was Teju who took on the main task of reading my work, presenting it to the English department, and guiding the process by which English became my tenure home after a decade of formal affiliation. English has been my lifelong discipline, and this institutional shift was like a long-overdue homecoming that would not have been possible without Teju. He was always too busy during the academic year for much after-hours contact, but for five years it was good to see him occasionally in the hallways, catch up during department meetings, and share various other aspects of departmental life. My last encounter with Teju was in the elevator in Helen C. White Hall, just before Thanksgiving in 2019. In mid-October he had come to the performance of a modernist Indian play I had co-translated with Vinay Dharwadker, and we had not had a chance to talk after that. In the elevator we agreed that we would meet at least for coffee after the semester was over. Then came the message from Anja Wanner, the English department Chair, on November 30th. My last image of Teju is from the memorial meeting a few days later, but even after a year I cannot say I’ve accepted that sudden loss of a brilliant colleague and selfless friend.
Ato Quayson, Professor, Stanford University, President of the African Studies Association
“Tejumola Olaniyan was that rare combination of intellectual fervor, great listening ability, and utterly humble demeanor that is extremely hard to find these days in academia. I counted him as one of my most productive interlocutors. There are several books and works-in-progress that I sent him to look at first before I had the courage to publish myself. And his comments were always candid and to the point. Never one to waste words, he would cut to the core of the argument pretty quickly and say what was to be said simply and straightforwardly. His own work was agenda-setting in more ways than one. It is impossible to underestimate for example his book on Fela – Arrest the Music – which inaugurated a whole new field in the analysis of popular music not just from a musicological perspective, but from that of a serious engagement with social and political history. He was also a great mentor to younger scholars and always on hand to advocate for their needs. To say that the African and Postcolonial Studies communities have lost a great presence is the sign of a complete failure of language to describe the loss. As the Akans would put it, “There is no mouth with which to say it. Something has fallen into my eyes, when I wipe, it does not go”. This is to conceal the fact that the eyes of the mourner are blood red with tears.
We miss him a lot. May His Soul Rest in Perfect Peace.’
Carina Ray, Associate Professor, African and African American Studies, Brandeis University
"When I think of Teju, I hear him before I see him. That voice! Teju was the original 'surround sound.' His voice had a magical way of enveloping an audience, captivating listeners, and drawing you into whatever intellectual orbit he was in. As big and round of a voice as it was, it was also a voice that made space for others to speak. It cajoled the reticent and provoked the curious. Generous. Gregarious. Irreplaceable. Teju's voice will be missed for as long as there is sound."!
Carli Coetzee, Editor, Journal of African Cultural Studies
Professor Tejumola Olaniyan was a man who filled any room he entered with his presence. His charismatic personality drew people to him, and his beautiful, deep voice could be heard from far away. His interaction with others was marked by his trademark generosity. When learning about someone else’s project, and in particular when talking to early career scholars or doctoral candidates, he was often heard saying: “That is terrific!”. People would leave his presence feeling smarter, better, taller, happier, and even briefly terrific. As an editor, the tone of his emails was similarly enabling. In a gesture that is not common in the repertoire of editorial moves, he would write warm and congratulatory letters to authors, even when the decision he was conveying was “Revise and Resubmit”. Receiving the letter, young scholars would see clearly the hard work that was required of them, but they would also feel that they were valued, and that their work had potential. Professor Olaniyan’s generosity and enabling encouragement had a particularly marked impact on the lives of many women. His positive interventions in the careers and in the scholarship of female colleagues were many, and a vast archive of anecdotes and testimonies exist of the self-confidence and self-belief he enabled and encouraged. I am, alongside countless others, a beneficiary of his generously enabling friendship and collegiality. He was, quite simply, terrific.
Catherine Cole, Professor, and Divisional Dean the Arts, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Teju's passage hit me hard, which was truly a year ago. A great tree has fallen, and this has left a gaping void in the forest. He has impacted profoundly so many lives in our field--mine among them. Tejumola Olaniyan was and remains a giant. I stand taller for having known him.
Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, Sally Mead Hands-Bascom Professor of English
Teju Olaniyan was an exemplary colleague and beloved friend. He arrived Madison a year or two after I was hired as an assistant professor. His office was next door to mine on the sixth floor of Helen C. White. We often held our office hours at the same time. I enjoyed hearing his booming voice and joyous laughter when he met with students. During brief interludes between student meetings, we chatted about research, writing, and our families. He always asked after my sons and updated me on his daughters’ many achievements, of which he was extremely proud. As I worked towards tenure, Teju never treated me as a junior colleague, but as an intellectual peer and valued collaborator. Post-tenure, he continued to be a superb mentor and cheerleader. When we served together on dissertation and hiring committees, his generosity and rigor was always on display. A query from Teju was always proceeded by a seemingly tangential story in which he made three or four salient points before finally arriving at the question, which invariably revealed the illuminating relevance of his prologue. What I miss most, along with his reliable and elevating presence, is his smile.
Grant Farred: Friend (Professor, Cornell University)
Teju Olaniyan was a fount of generosity. He gave freely of himself, be that through friendly advice or intense intellectual exchange. He was kind, drawing one gently into his world and keeping one safe there. He shared his family, welcoming his friends into the domestic orbit, expanding the circle of generosity to Moji – who was always able to seal the deal with her exquisite cooking. He was thoughtful, opening vistas – in the academy, in the arts – and expanding the world in precisely those ways which we, as his friends, needed. Even if we did not know it, yet. He was selfless, to a fault, always, it seems, thinking of others before himself. All remarkable attributes, made all the more singular by its manifestation in one so wonderfully smart in so many things. I miss all these things, all or some of which would invariably spring to life in a conversation that began with his signature salutation: “Chief.” But above all else it is his mischievous laughter which I miss. Ringing, emanating from somewhere three quarter way down his throat; ringing with elan vital – a vital, impulsive, naughty, life force. I hear his laughter still. I cannot believe that I will not hear it again.
Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor/Director, TheNEWS/PM NEWS, Press House, Lagos
Tejumola: To Relieve the Pain of our Loss
One year has passed since death silenced one of our most eloquent friends, Tejumola Olaniyan. It has been twelve months filled with the excruciating pain of loss, for he died when the plane of his academic exertions and career had just gained altitude: he died when he still had so much to do; so much contribution to make. Face to face with death, when it showed up in his bedroom on November 30, he was not afraid of it. Our friend lived honourably and died valiantly. His death was a hard blow, still so difficult to bear, because of the bonds of affection between his family and mine which we both cherished. Tejumola was a very good human being. I feel the absence of his baritone voice across the Atlantic, his easy laughter, his wry and stinging jokes and wit, his deep love and compassion, his insights, and his wisdom. His death has depleted the ranks of good people whose grand gestures and onerous service often pull us away from precipice and costly errors; far-seeing people who make it their compelling obligation to prevent us from perils; people who quietly, relentlessly and gallantly tame the savagery of our world. Tejumola's death has deprived us of a wonderful organiser, a servant-leader and a beautiful mind. His sense of honour was exemplary. His sincerity was total. The depth of his intellect and emotional intelligence is reflected in his books and his essays, and all allied matters. He was gentle but his spirit of devotion was granite. His determination and firmness were always strong. Diligently, he would do every assignment he accepted to carry out. Unfailingly, he would always come to a meeting with a plan for debate, a plan for a mission, a plan for a path of meaningful freedom. He had a boundless faith in young and enterprising academics who, we hope and pray, will follow his great example. The seeds of his extraordinary intelligence will grow in the hearts and minds of those with whom he had shared them. We know that great books, great ideas, live forever because of their eternal truths. The lights of Tejumola's works will illuminate many more minds for many more years. As we come to terms with our loss and grief, let us renew our commitment to the cause for which he dedicated his life. That will be a suitable way of healing our wounds, a fitting way of memorialising him and his enviable achievements.
Ladi Olorunyomi, Managing Editor, Premium Times Books
There are people you know before you meet them and when you do, it’s one short step and they blend seamlessly into your life. I envy those who remember when they met Teju because I don’t. I envy those who remember what words he uttered where and when because I don’t. I am one of many who regard him as the brother from another mother, the friend the good Lord knows you need and sent to you hence there is no beginning and no end. Teju was the person you can always count on to unravel the complex knots of our troubled time. He validated our faith in the good and beautiful through his work and even in his jest and banter. We will always feel his steady presence because that kind of natural virtue does not fade away.
Linda Greene, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison WI
I knew Teju as a teacher of renown when I had the opportunity to audit one of his graduate seminars. The course content was global, sophisticated, and multidisciplinary. Beyond that Teju created a warm and caring environment for his students: one that empowered them to think more deeply and speak openly about assumptions, misgivings, and new insights. I never thought of myself as a professor in that class. Rather, like his students, I had the rare privilege of becoming a student-colleague to one of the most formidable intellectuals of the 21st Century. Like everyone, I miss him everyday; like you, I will never forget him.
Moradewun Adejunmobi, Professor, African American and African Studies, University of California, Davis
Little did we know that Teju’s passing was to be the solemn harbinger of a long season of loss, of many blows to the heart, to the mind, to our spirits and bodies. In this year of crisis upon crisis, we miss Teju’s unruffled calm in the midst of turmoil, his quick wit, sharp mind, his judiciousness, and his boldness. Bereft of his considered counsel, we are now left to muddle along as best we can, advancing in the dark, and unsure of the way forward. Still, we remember with fondness his collegial friendship, his fraternal support, his flashes of humor, the light and joy that he brought to our shared interests and vocations. All this, we shall never forget.
Naminata Diabate, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Literature. Cornell University
Endless Beginnings and l’éblouissement Tejumolanien
I am most honored to share the inspiring presence in my life of Tejumolan Olaniyan, the man, the scholar, the mentor, the leader, and the dancer. Even after exchanging ideas with Teju on three continents (Europe, Asia, and America) and in multiple American cities, each encounter with him felt like a new beginning. Given his intellectual generosity, I always walked away from a conversation with Teju enthusiastic and mulling over an approach I had not previously thought about. For instance, Teju’s innovative conceptualization of freedom as both attached and unattached, offered in the United Arab Emirates in March 2019, continues to ébloui me.
Having already started, let me begin with the dazzlingly obvious: Teju’s erudite and diverse scholarship has and will continue to inspire new questions and approaches. In graduate school, I met Teju the scholar when reading his first monograph Scars of Conquest on African and African diasporic drama. A few years later, when writing a symposium paper on cartoons, I read Teju’s initial yet generative essay on editorial cartooning in Nigerian newspapers. When exploring Malinké dance and songs in my first book, I discovered Teju’s groundbreaking monograph, Arrest the Music! on Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Recently, I returned to and engaged his Scars of Conquest in my essay on agency in African studies.
As Teju chaired panels, convened conferences, delivered papers, edited special issues, and danced at ALA banquets, the contours of a memorable man-scholar-mentor-dancer-indefatigable leader emerged, dazzling me. In the name of unattached freedom, in the name of endless beginnings and continuous éblouissements Tejumolaniens, I remain confident that Teju’s work and personality would continue to chart news questions, new approaches, new dance moves, and new ways of being in the world. Peace Grand Frère Teju!
Ndirangu Wachanga, Ph. D, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
In August 2019, Teju and I were driving from Lagos to Abeokuta to work on a biographical documentary on Wole Soyinka. A younger friend who came with us spoke highly of the collective Nigerian resilience, but Teju reminded him of the unacceptable high mortality rate of that spirit, which screams for all to see and hear in the legendarily impossible Lagos jaga-jaga traffic. Coincidentally, it was Fela Kuti’s 22nd death anniversary, and the radio was playing his famous go slow, go slow. But that was Teju’s quick-witticism. When it converged with his characteristic sonorous voice, many would recognize his self-effacing trait without realizing his not-so-conspicuous shyness. The way he wore his round glasses made his face appear serious; marked with genuine curiosity, which often reassuringly thawed when he smiled.
For ten years, Teju and I met frequently, first, in his office, before moving our venue to the UW Terrace at Memorial Union. After sometime, we relocated to a local Barnes & Noble, up to until April 14, 2019, when he wrote to ask: “If you don’t mind some simple toasted bread and tea/coffee, we could do late breakfast at my place.” He was gracious when he hosted me. We sat around his kitchen table, Fela and Bob Marley playing in the background, as we planned for two upcoming trips: One to Ohio for the African Literature Association Conference, and the second one to Nigeria for the Fagunwa Study Group conference. I still feel his lanky presence on the dance floor at ALA’s last night of the conference, slowly leaping up and down when a Bob Marley song was played. When he took a breather, he sat next to Biodun Jeyifo. And he asked for my camera and took a picture of BJ and I.
But it was in Nigeria where we spent uninterrupted time. He had arrived a few days earlier and was staying with one of his best friends, Kunle Ajibade. I was touched by his decision to move from his friend’s house to the hotel where I was staying so that we could spend more time discussing the project. We transformed my room into a mini-studio and recorded several interviews. He made sure that we were having meals together, and often checked on me. His generosity and honesty was dangerously transparent; a genuinely caring big brother he was to me.
At the Fagunwa Study Group conference in Akure, Soyinka was the chief guest. As one would expect, the crowd, including senior scholars, jostled to get closer to Kongi. I was at the back recording. Teju stood away from the dais. When Soyinka rose to speak, he jokingly said that some of his “cheeky students like Teju over there owe me because they acquired new vocabulary from me.” It was difficult to ignore Teju once he was in a room. He didn’t need to shove for a front seat. Better still, he was never starstruck.
Teju’s body of work was groundbreaking. But it also promised that those broken grounds were a mere foundation for what even Teju could neither name nor define. Still, it was clear he was going to name and define these grounds in the fullness of time. His passing was tragic because I was waiting for the name of these grounds, which his extant work promises to name in his absence.
After our trip to Nigeria, he wrote to me on August 23, 2019, “I am so glad we are getting this work done; thanks so aplenty for it. Although I have always known it and lived it since the late 1970s when our relationship began, I am amazed all over again at the multisidedness of Soyinka’s relationships. That makes telling his story quite challenging but also exciting.” Challenging it is. And in March 2020, I interviewing Soyinka in California. Teju’s daughter, Bimpe, came with me. She brought Teju’s spirit with her. Yet, we all felt his physical absence while acknowledging his unmistakable influence on us: three different generations- his teacher, his student, and his daughter.
Teju’s death robbed me of a very close friend, dependable mentor, and a genuine colleague. I miss him so much.
Olakunle George, PhD. Professor, English Department, Brown University
For Tejumola Olaniyan: It will soon be one year since your passing. But you will continue to live on in your works, and in the memories of your colleagues and family. Rest in peace, my friend.
Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, Professor, Africana Studies & Research Center, Cornell University
For Tẹjúmọ́lá, In Memoriam
My heart will never stop being heavy and feeling empty, as long as I have breath in me, whenever I have to reflect on your passing or I recall the time that we spent together when you were still above ground.
Yours was a life that taught lessons without effort or direct instructions.
You gave unstintingly to all and sundry. A better friend and counsellor one could not have wished for.
You shared your gift and, in so doing, made the rest of us who were fortunate enough to know and work with much better. You never asked for anything in return.
Remembrance of your life will be a perpetual reminder of the goodness that is possible in the world.
Even if you had lived for much longer, there is no way I could have repaid your kindness and generosity. All of us will strive continually to pay it forward in celebration of your life.
Sweet are the memories of the just and thus will my memory of you ever be.
Russ Castronovo, Tom Paine Professor of English and Dorothy Draheim Professor of American Studies, Director of the Center for the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Not a day goes by that the UW-Madison community does not feel the tragic loss of Teju Olaniyan, our friend, our mentor, our colleague, our shining example of grace and intellectual curiosity. This feeling remains so raw because Teju everywhere seems still present. The tones of his rich and inviting voice echoes in our ears. His searching questions and breadth of knowledge continue to give energy to our thinking. His love of soccer, his passion for music and performance, and his beaming love for life, in all its sadness and joy, still animates our faces when we remember him.
As an expert in the discipline of Anglophone literatures and cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora, postcolonial literary and cultural studies, drama and theatre theory and criticism, and popular culture studies, Teju represents the best of intellectual inquiry. His rare acumen—evident in the nine books he either authored or edited—lies in understanding how symbolic and cultural expressions are created to make sense of the world as well as transform it. That world for Teju was the Anglophone non-western world. In doing this work, he brought distinction that was truly global to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His writing resonates with an urgent ethical sensibility attuned to the self-understandings of non-western peoples living amid a global marketplace of exchange. A fitting memorial to his influence can be seen in the scores of dissertations that he directed and advised. He worked with PhD students across 11 different departments: we will likely never see again a faculty member who has the expertise and energy to make such a heavy commitment to interdisciplinarity. An intellectual force, Teju was a trailblazer across several fields, including art, visual culture, literature, and postcolonial studies. And in each areas of his endeavors it is kindness that stands as a vivid reminder of his inimitable example.
Spring Sherrod, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Teju Olaniyan was a man of impeccable character—he was genuine, he embodied the spirit of kindness, he was generous with his time and resources and he tangibly and consistently expressed his concern for others. Teju was a prolific and respected scholar— his research and publications on African and diaspora studies was groundbreaking and are for what he was most renowned. Recently I learned of his research, interest and accomplishment in music, film and photography. Teju was a man that valued his family—they meant everything to him. He was immensely proud of his two beautiful daughters and deeply loved and admired his wife, Moji. Teju was a friend—the kind of person that “has your back” and wants the best for you. The loss of Teju from among us is loud though his presence was louder, and his legacy louder and stronger still.
Susan Stanford Friedman, Hilldale Professor Emerita in the Humanities, Virginia Woolf Professor Emerita of English and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin—Madison
I still deeply miss my friend and colleague, Teju. Has it been only a year since he left us so suddenly? It seems like forever and just yesterday. He and I worked closely together in the English Department, the Institute for Research in the Humanities, the interdepartmental cluster programs in transcultural and diasporic studies, and the Worldwide University Network at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But Teju is still a bit of a mystery to me. How did he manage to be so brilliant and wide-ranging in his intellect and knowledge and at the same time so generous and wise in his support of others? One look at his beautiful smile and warm eyes, one listen to his deep deep baritone and gentle chuckle, and his special gifts with people were evident. But in the midst of that kindness, he could ask the most penetrating and truly fundamental questions. His own work was so creative and pathbreaking in postcolonial studies and the humanities more generally. But he also had a great gift for entering into other people’s worlds to ask trenchant questions, especially evident during his years as Senior Fellow at the Institute. Teju loved dialogue, and I loved to dialogue with him and watch him dialogue with others. As his own stature grew, I watched him devote more and more time to bringing up new generations of scholars, particularly but not only students and faculty of color. He would counsel patience, the importance of support and of recognizing ways in which young scholars can grow. Teju was an intellectual giant with the humanity to understand why ideas mattered and a heartfelt commitment to fostering the thinking of others. He was tough. He was tough on my own efforts to get out of Eurocentric frameworks. He was tough with his students. But his toughness came with a smile and a good laugh, a delight in sharing books and ideas and a hope for a brighter future. Teju was a committed intellectual with a heart. He was also a friend whose judgment I trusted and relied on. He was a teacher who was always learning, a learner who was always teaching. Our lunches at the Thai restaurant began and ended with stories about our families. He was that kind of friend.
Susan Zaeske, Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities College of Letters & Science University of Wisconsin-Madison
It is difficult to believe that it was only a year ago when I received the call from Aliko Songolo conveying the shocking news of Teju's passing. His absence is felt so profoundly and the void is so deep that it feels much longer than a year. I hope that remembering him in community on the first anniversary of his death helps all of us grieve his loss, especially Teju’s family. Professor Olaniyan is remembered as a towering, world-class scholar who brought great renown to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and who profoundly influenced research in multiple disciplines. He is remembered as an extraordinary mentor of graduate students, who nurtured their souls as well as their minds. He is remembered as consummate and caring leader, who forged lasting programs by building community. And he is remembered as a loving husband, father, uncle, and elder by close and far-reaching families. As a department chair, Teju taught me how one can be a civil and kind and yet unrelenting and persuasive advocate for a cause that matters to oneself and one’s community. And even in his passing, Teju teaches us. His absence reminds us of the importance of striving for excellence always lifting others as we climb. May we forever remember Professor Olaniyan and the lessons we learned from his great though all-too-short life.
Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju is currently a Visiting Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at Chemnitz University in Germany and Catalyst Fellow of The University of Edinburgh
So much has been said about Teju, and the much so said has been so true. Tejumola Olaniyan was goodness personified. His readiness to lend a helping hand was legendary, and so was his concern for justice and fairness. I recall that when industrial sanctions were placed on my university on account of its illegal and unjust termination of appointment of several academics, who were later to be known as the Unilorin 49, the university reached out to, amongst others, Wisconsin, where Teju was, seeking some form of academic cooperation that would include the granting of funds and so forth. Teju was to mount a serious campaign amongst faculty who were to take the decision at the Wisconsin end. He stood firmly between the university and the consummation of the unjust deal. It was in essence an act of solidarity with the oppressed, and one of the many chronicles that elixirated the struggle against the enduring tyranny that had come to typify my institution at that point in time. It was also a manifestation of Teju’s famed fraternal crossings, his reaching out to all and sundry across geographical, gendered and generational boundaries to give a hand wherever he could. It was a trait that predated his departure to the US. Much has also been said about how Teju’s departure for the US in 1987 created a supply line for much sought after literary materials from yonder for colleagues and mentees back home. And I do not know how many other academics abroad have written as many references for folks back home as did Teju, and often at very short notices. I once entreated him for a reference on behalf of a junior colleague, deadline being close at hand; well, Teju sighed, am just going to have to steal or borrow time from somewhere. And this concept of a time heist on behalf of innumerable petitioners despite a now revealed underlying heart condition resonated with me when I heard that Teju had suddenly been called upon to pay his time dues, terminally. We all live on borrowed times, but Teju paid off his own debt too soon. Goodness was second nature to him; it was almost as if he could not bring himself to be otherwise. In the process he gave a little bit of his life to everyone that he encountered. Adieu, a good man, a great scholar and a good friend. And to the family he left behind – Comfort.
Wumi Raji, Professor, Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife
TEJUMOLA, SO LONG
It is almost one year to the day when Tejumola Olaniyan left us. He was a tall, lanky man who had a deep, baritone voice and a gentle, unassuming mien. I recall him vividly as we worked together on the programme of the Fagunwa Study Group (FSG) conference held in Akure on August 7 to 11, 2019. He was a meticulous planner who left nothing to chance. He was kind and generous too: he volunteered to make his personal resources available when it began to appear as if we would not be able to raise enough funds for the conference. But, happily, this turned out not to be necessary in the end. As a scholar, Teju was brilliant. His mind was fecund and his thoughts profound. His prose was simple, flowing like a stream following a smooth course, freshly watered by a gentle rain. He was versatile: his earliest publications were in Drama but he soon moved on to research and publish in Music, The Novel, Art History, Film and Cinema, and was finalizing work on a book on African political cartoons when he passed on. Teju’s works were stunning in depth and wide in scope. He was like a fox who kept on travelling, exploring new fields. Teju was bright. He ranked among the best humanities scholars that Africa has ever produced. Though dead, Teju’s footprints will remain visible in the different fields he had explored. He will continue to be remembered by the different people he had interacted with. His wide-ranging publications will keep on illuminating the paths of future scholars. The example he set will continue to inspire others. And the many lives he touched will always remember him. Tejumola did indeed die on November 30, 2019, but he will live forever in the hearts of many. So long, Tejumola.
Adewale Onabule, President, Egbe Yoruba in Wisconsin Area (EYIWA)
Akinsola Ogundeji, Secretary
Dr.Tejumola Olaniyan is gone. He has gone to join his ancestors. We in the Ẹgbẹ́ Ọmọ Yorùbá in Wisconsin Area (EYIWA) will forever remember him for he was one of us and a founding-member for that matter. When he was with us he contributed in many ways to the progress and advancement of the association. He opened his home to us for meetings and never shacked in his financial responsibilities. He would always send an e-mail to the secretary to ask if he is up-to-date in his financial obligation. Although, due to his busy academic schedule he seldom attend our events. However, few ones he attended are memorable. For instance, there was a time he took part in our cultural display. He demonstrated his skill in beating the traditional talking drum that year to the amazement of spectators, many of those who didn’t know him as a thespian.
Dr. Olaniyan will be remembered for his closeness to his students. He was a father-figure to most of them who always gather at his house for thanksgiving dinner. Many of them who are members of this community will always have glowing words to describe his relationship (and that of his wife – Aunty Moji) with them. How he encouraged and pushed them to be successful in all they do.
TJ as known by his friends and colleagues was blunt to a fault. He would always call a spade a spade. When he disagreeed with you, he tells you not mincing words. EYIWA President who experienced this first hand during the association’s inauguration has this to say : “During that time I was able to learn from Dr. Teju that you may disagree in principle but the community is most important. Meaning he disagreed with me on what I wanted from him as a matter of principle but still committed to EYIWA.
Our thoughts as an association are with Aunty Moji, Bimpe, Bolajoko and the entire Olaniyan family at home and in diaspora. May the soul of our departed brother continue to rest in perfect peace.
Ghirmai Negash, Professor, Ohio University, President of the African Literature Association
Remembering Teju Olaniyan
I saw Teju for the last time a year ago, at the ASA annual conference in 2019, in Boston. I remember we were chuckling as we chatted, standing at the Ohio University Press Book stand. I don’t recall now why, but it might have been a curious idea about some curious topic that he was telling me that provoked the laughing. Teju, the gigantic thinker, was also a great performer. All of it he gave generously, gracefully, and thoughtfully to build scholarship, friendship, and community. He could be stylishly professorial, too, which matched well his personality.
Thinking about him a year later, I also see more and more of what Teju meant for ALA. As the president of ALA for this year, I see more clearly the hard work he put in for the growth and well-being of the association. There is hardly nothing that he did not do to enhance the association’s performance intellectually and organizationally. His contributions as a life-time member, president, and editor-in-chief of JALA, the association’s journal, are uncountable. If there would be ambiguity with constitutional or procedural matters, for example, he would come up with ideas to move forward in ways that helped the organization and protected its members.
He single-handedly transformed the association’s journal, JALA, to become a well-respected publication within a few years of his tenure as editor-in-chief. And as a commanding and committed scholar and leader, he inspired many young scholars and students of African literature to join the association. I know personally as the president of the ALA that the organization would not have become as strong as it is today without Teju’s tireless work and dedication. He was a gift to ALA and the field of African literature, and I hope ALA will carry on the legacy of his work eternally!
James J. SANGOYOMI, President-- The Skylarks' Club, Omu-Aran, Nigeria
With gratitude to God our Creator, The Skylarks' Club, Omu-Aran remembers with mixed feelings the first anniversary of the demise of our member, friend and colleague, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan. It's painful that we can no longer enjoy physical interactions with you but that you lived a fulfil life is great joy to us. Your exemplary life really made the adage 'not how long but how well' more meaningful to us.
We pray God to uphold and support your wife, children and relations on all sides. Your remembrance will remain evergreen in our hearts. To God be all the glory. Adieu our dear Tejumola Olaniyan. Rest on in the blossom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ till the resurrection day when we shall meet to part no more. Good night. -
Ray Kumapayi, P.E., President, African Association of Madison, Inc.
Prof Teju Olaniyan and family were staunch members of the African Association of Madison, Inc.
The African Association of Madison is a non-profit umbrella organization for African country organizations in Greater Madison, WI.
The mission of the organization is to promote the advancement of Africans in the Greater Madison area, and encourage education and cultural diversity initiatives and exchanges that would improve collective community relationships.
Professor Olaniyan always provided substantive input in our organizational programs. He staged events and films that were to the benefit of the membership and Madison community in general. He willingly accepted guest speakership on many occasions to discuss issues of paramount interests to African immigrants and Madison community on lessons to learn from African history and cultural heritages of all formats.
On a personal note, Professor Olaniyan was a very good friend. We were of the same genre. We shared great interests, ranging from world politics, culture and indigenous music. Paramount was our interest in Fela Kuti - a renowned Nigerian musician whose musical talent was extraordinary and whose beat and lyrics addressed and bemoaned the inequities of our times, of which unfortunately, still holds today. He and I marveled at the fact that we both had great collections of Fela's music, ultimately exchanging different pieces that were missing from our collections. Many years ago, Fela ultimately died from complications related to the aids virus. Rather than have Fela's death be in vain, Prof Olaniyan encouraged support and strongly presented programs that would provide funding for research and ultimate cure for health issues, especially aids related illnesses.
The African Association of Madison provides this message of condolence to the Olaniyan family on the loss of their beloved one in Professor Teju Olaniyan. He was a great family man. He was an accomplished man of international fame for his literary compositions and additions. He was a great man. He shall surely be missed. We pray that Prof Teju Olaniyan's gentle soul shall rest in peace.
Sennuga Oladipupo Kazeem, President, Union Of Nigerians In Madison Area--UNIMA
Late Professor Tejumola, Olaniyan was a dedicated member of UNIMA(Union Of Nigerians In Madison Area). He is definitely going to be missed by all UNIMA members because of his wealth of experience and contributions during association meetings. Prof was hard-working and willing to support the Nigerian community any time he was called upon to assist. A loyal, honest, and prudent member who pays his dues as at when due and made significant contributions towards the growth of our association.
Omo won nii omu aran
Omo Olomu Aperan
Omo oloro alagogo ide
Asingba lona t' omu
Omo onilu bambatiriba,
llu ti won kii fi awo ekun se,
Afi awo eketepe eti erin
SUN RE O!
Tunji Lesi, CPA, President, African Center for Community Development, Inc. (ACCD) Madison, WI
One Year Remembrance for Professor Tejumola Olaniyan
We cannot believe that it has been one year since Professor Tejumola Olaniyan departed from our community in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. It was a blow that we did not expect, and it hit us hard. We lost a rare gem of a kindhearted friend, who strongly identified with our community in many ways. On learning about the proposal to acquire a physical building for the African Center for Community Development, Inc., Professor Olaniyan became keenly interested in the aims and objectives of the project, contributing great ideas, and providing generous financial donation towards the project. Such is the man, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan was.
The African Center for Community Development, Inc. (ACCD) is a nonprofit, public charity organization located in Madison, Wisconsin. The primary mission of ACCD is to bring together all people of African descent and friends of Africa living in Madison and Dane County to preserve and enrich African cultural values through education, empowerment, service, and dialogue.
The ACCD acknowledges Professor Tejumola Olaniyan and his family’s continuing support for the organization through various gifts given to ACCD by his friends and foundations as directed by his family during his funeral service last year. Many of the donations were used to support ACCD’s Cultural Literacy Program for children ages 6 years to 12 years which was exactly what he would have wanted.
We will forever remember you Teju, for your analytical mind and transparent reasoning whenever we discussed matters of interest. You were an unassuming gentleman who lifted people up, backing your promises with action. May your gentle soul Rest in Perfect Peace.
Bashorun Babatunde (Yemo ) Adeyemo, Engineer, Bodija, Ibadan
Teju, A gift from God
Teju married into the fifth generation of the Bashorun Ogunmola dynasty of Ibadan. We related as a family son, brother and uncle never as an in-law. As hectic as Teju professional schedules are, he was observant of the Adeyemo family, he always found time to have a short discussion or moment. As busy as Teju was, whenever he came to Nigeria for one of his numerous hectic programs he would always find time to stop over in Bodija even if it’s two minutes. If he visits Bodija in November, he is relaxed,loves eating his thanksgiving amala meal. That was his regular thanksgiving visit before heading to Madison. His theatrics, humor and laughter erupts when he visited. It was great getting to know Teju over the years. His dedication and contributions to African culture and tradition is impressive. I remember listening to his discussions of Fagunwa's Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole with his friends and colleagues during one of my visits to Wisconsin. I tried to follow, but the discussion turned classic. So, I decided to watch the scholars dissecting the Yoruba classic literature.
I also cherish the moments when we discussed your work on Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the research on African political cartooning. Teju was more than a brother-in-law. He was my brother and friend. Indeed, we had world class genius and an angel in our midst. I miss him dearly.
Dr. Efe Akhigbe (New Jersey)
My cousins and I have a whatsapp chat where we talk about many things. It keeps us connected even when far away from each other. One of the many fun things we like to do is talk about our parent's quirks including Uncle Teju's sandwich recipes which Bimpe shared and resulted in some of the best, most entertaining responses from our cousins. It brought so much humor to my day.
On this chat as well we tried to process the emotions that comes with the knowledge that 2 of us just lost a parent. Initially it was stunned silence, I realize now it is because most of us were blind-sided. I assumed everyone was aware of his condition because I was, but they weren't. I remember the panic I felt when the test result was first shared with me at initial diagnosis because as a physician, I knew what it meant. But with every passing year, I told myself that maybe it was not so bad or maybe it was getting better. I understood why he got teary at his 60th birthday party. I certainly did not dwell on the knowledge of this diagnosis, just accepted the gift of each passing year, until I got the fateful call.
It has been a year now and still it seems unreal. However, there is a lot to be thankful for. For an amazingly rich life where so much was achieved from so little. A life that belonged to a brilliant mind that reached its potential despite humble beginnings. A testament of human decency and resilience, that never forgot even in success, to bring everyone else along. His life was a drop that cast a wide ripple and impacted the lives of our extended family in far-reaching ways, with a value none of us could ever truly quantify. It is a loss that is deeply felt but not dwelt on because that cannot overshadow the richness of that life nor diminish its impact. We can only wish that we had more time, and within this range of emotions also hope that this is a temporary separation. That at some point in the future we will meet again.
I saw an Avengers clip once, where the sound was overwritten with voice-overs in Yoruba, the content of which I found hilarious. I thought to myself, "Uncle Teju would love this" so I shared it on whatsapp with my cousins and asked Bola and Bimpe to share it with Uncle Teju. They reported that he doubled over with laughter and thoroughly enjoyed it, even wanted to know if there was more than just a clip. I patted myself on the back then for making a good call because then and even now, I just imagined how hard he must have laughed. I heard his laughter in my mind and it made me smile.
Dr. Niyi Bankole, Lagos, NIGERIA
TEJUMOLA: A MEMORIAL.
Tejumola, omo agbepa, omo olomu aperan, my cousin and my friend; your life was so rich as if
you soujourned for a century, and so impactful that it seemed very brief.
We attended the same High School and same College, we slept on the same bed for years and
shared many common visions.
Although he was a lover of letters, and I of figures, our converging point was excellence.
Teju would give you gentle pressure until your star shines brighter, he was so people-centric
that he seemed to forget about himself. No extravagance in anything, and he did not see a need to flaunt anything, not even his incredible mastery of English Language and African Culture. He was an outstanding epitome of grace enthroned on simplicity. Our major disagreement was on matters relating to faith in Jesus Christ and even on this, he was never combative.
My cousin did all he could to persuade me to join him in the United State of America because he believed that I would find better expression of my gifts and talents in the US. He was such a darling always showing up at the time of need. Teju did not give any opportunity to worry about him, not even at his death. I trust God that as his memory is blessed so his posterity will be blessed. Surely, the good that men do lives on after them. My wife and children will miss his kindness and gentle disposition.
May God continue to keep and support his wife and children in Jesus name.
Dr. Olusola Adesanya, Houston, TX
*Teju* - Unforgettable
Your brilliance and scholarly achievement, inextricably combined with your humility and passion for whatever you chose to do, made you *one of a kind*. Your impact on our lives is indelibly written on the tablet of our hearts. I miss your depth of knowledge and uncommon insight on contemporary events of the world around us. As aptly expressed below .... You were special in more ways than can be stated here ... " *It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them*"(anonymous). Teju - You are unforgettable !!!
Gbenga Adejuyigbe, Canada
Teju, it has been a year since you left us but it seems just like yesterday! Perhaps it’s because we have not fully come to terms with your departure and think of you everyday but one thing is clear – your departure is still like a bad dream. Saturday, November 30, 2019 was surreal – we had a very brotherly and unusually long phone call; it was as if one of us had a premonition that something was about to happen. I implored you and you promised to write a book that is accessible to the general public. A few hours later, I received the sad news that you were gone. I will no longer hear Teju’s very unique way of greeting again –"ẹ pẹ̀lẹ́ gan ni" delivered in that deep baritone voice or great insights from your very clear, brilliant and beautiful mind in a friendly and soft manner and sense of humor. Although your departure was sudden, we take comfort that you left us the way you always wanted – on your own terms; in your own home; suddenly and without being a burden to anyone. We are grateful for the indelible legacy you left behind including the love for family and friends as well as the rich body of scholarly work. We miss you dearly everyday but you live on in our hearts; sleep on, my brother.
Mrs. Adekoya, “Pastor Bee”, St. Louis, MO
Tejumola Olaniyan my brother in law with a baritone.
You go about with your camera taking pictures of nature and events
but camera cannot capture the greatness of the Professor from Omuaran and his humility.
You were a caring brother
You planted your steps in the sands of time
You left a legacy of love and selflessness
Your memory lingers on
Mrs. Adesanya, Houston, TX
Tejumola, what shall I say? I wished I knew how much special you were. It was the few months before you passed while putting together a photo book in honor of your 60th birthday that I learned more about your scholarly achievements; I was compelled to title the photo book: "Great Thinker". Your life was so precious. You had a big heart. And you cared deeply for the progress and well-being of many family members, friends, colleagues, and students. You lived a full life that impacted many. You were indeed a great thinker with extraordinary talent and amazing insight. We will cherish your memories in our hearts forever.
Mrs. Adijat Jimoh, Ilorin, Nigeria
Glory be to God Almighty for a life well spent. Teju was a gift to us. No wonder my aunty waited for several years to have him. May his kind soul rest in peace. Mama Bola, please you have to be strong. It is difficult to process that Teju has gone forever. But Yoruba adage has said it all " igi to ba to kii pe nigbo". Sugbon o 'didun ni iranti olododo. Ajide aro, Omo epa nile ora. Sun re o!
Olumide Adeyemo, Nephew-in-law, Ontario, Canada
I spent about 4yrs in Wisconsin and a lot of time at the Olaniyans'. Uncle Teju was the jester of the house, even though cerebral and disciplined.
If you haven’t made food or had something to eat that day? “Mu omi, Water is free”. Being around Uncle Teju makes you laugh, but it also makes you think. And that’s the depth of who he was.“The strength of a man's virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.” Living with or knowing Uncle Teju, you know a man whose habits define his strong virtues.
Pastor (Mrs.) Funmilayo Akhigbe, Baltimore, MD
In memory of Prof Tejumola Olaniyan
Winter is coming, I will miss Teju telling me not to clear the snow and not to go out even when the snow is not as heavy as in Madison. For the slightest wind that blows or change of weather in Maryland, he is calling to ask after us. Each time I comb out my hair (all gray now) I remember ( with a smile) how concerned Teju was some years back when he noticed my graying hair . He said “the face does not fit the head of gray hair”. That I should dye my hair. And I did for many years!
May the Lord continue to strengthen and comfort his wife - Moji. May God continue to watch over his children - Bolajoko and Olabimpe. May his soul continue to Rest In Peace. Amen.
Pastor George O. Akhigbe
My earliest memories of Teju was in 1995 when my family relocated to the USA and were well received by him and his family for a brief period in Charlottesville, VA prior to our settling down in Maryland.
Warm, loving, respectful and brilliant; I called Teju *professor* well before he climbed the academic ladder to become one. His diligence and focus on excellence was never in doubt even in those early days. I was always *egbon George* to him and he would prompt Moji to give us a call whenever there was the slightest reason for one. My last chat with Teju was during one of such, the night before I traveled to Nigeria. What a rude, painful shock it was when I received a call two, three days later to be told he had passed on.
His loss is irreplaceable; that little brother I never had. I thank God in retrospect that I was able to be at the birthday surprise Moji gave him in Columbus, OH when he turned 60. On a Sunday and direct from Church!
I also thank God that our paths crossed on this side of eternity as I pray that we will be together again through eternity; that God will be the soothing balm of Gilead to Moji, Bolajoko and Olabimpe as they bear his loss and that Teju continues to rest in the bosom of the Lord.
Carmen McCain, Assistant Professor, Westmont College
Teju was my teacher and mentor. I applied to grad school when I was still living in Nigeria, and I wrote him out of the blue asking him if I should apply to the English Department or to the Department of African Languages and Literature. He advised me to apply to African Languages and Literature and thus gave me the first piece of advice that was to change the trajectory of my life.
Once in Madison, I was an obstinate student and Teju was an intimidating advisor. He did not put up with self-indulgence or sentimentality and insisted on rigorous thought and disciplined writing. I don’t know that I learned to write as rigorously as he would have liked, but I got better. Though he could be intimidating, he was endlessly supportive and kind, asking after my parents whenever a new Jos crisis would erupt, serving as the departmental graduate advisor, inviting students for Thanksgiving to his home, and advising the Towards an Africa without Borders conferences three years in a row. In his classes, he provided us pdfs of the materials that later became his African Literary Theory anthology and encouraged us to learn by giving presentations and engaging in email discussion, texts and techniques I use in my own teaching now. I’ve scattered those pdfs with his scanned underlining and marginalia to students from Kano and Ilorin to Santa Barbara. I can still see him at the front of the classroom, in that brown suede jacket and corduroy trousers, hear his deep voice and hearty laugh, often making sly points that would skewer pompous grad student assumptions. He knew how to create community, the intellectual community in the many conferences he planned, yes, but also the community of the classroom. In his postcolonial literature class, students competed to see who could bring the most elaborate snacks.
One moment that I frequently remember is a guest lecture he gave in our research methods class. He reflected on his sadness about a brilliant student who had left the PhD program after struggling with feedback. It made me realize how much he wanted us to succeed, how he was giving us the tools we needed for the field. He spoke passionately then about the need for African literary critics and theorists—how literature, film, and popular art is flourishing on the continent, but there are not enough people to critique, to analyze, to historicize and curate. What we were studying was not just an intellectual exercise, it was a calling, although he wouldn’t have used such a sentimental word. It was a conviction I took to heart. I disappeared for five years back to Nigeria to study Hausa literature and film, sending dissertation chapters by email. I returned for my final semester in the spring of 2014, and I was awestruck when, as my defense date approached, Teju began to treat me more like a colleague than a student. I will never forget how he hosted the families (including my parents, siblings, aunts and 92-year-old grandmother) of his 2014 PhD student graduates—the way Bimpe acted as official photographer for the many photos he took with us on that cold overcast May day of the commencement. I had been nervous about marching before I defended, but he told me not to worry—that he wouldn’t have approved me to defend if I wasn’t ready. And then there was the defense—and the moment he called me back from the institutional hallways of Van Hise into the conference room where the committee waited—the ritual way he spoke the words “The committee has decided” like an incantation inducting me into a secret society, before breaking out the bottle of champagne and the plastic cups. Emergency sirens blared on my silenced phone because of flash floods. A week or so after my defense, he took me to lunch and we talked for three hours, advice about academia, personal gossip about extended family. I was filled with such immense gratitude and love for him. From that time on, his mentorship of me as a young scholar became even more important, if that is possible, than his mentorship of me as a student. He shared his thoughts on Nigerian universities he visited, as I taught at Kwara State University. He sought out my advice on recruiting Hausa students. He suggested me for positions and wrote every letter I asked for. I last saw him at his 60th birthday party, where, as I stood watching the masquerade dancers, he said to me in fond accusation, “you, you knew about this too?” Our last communication was in November 2019, about a paper I had turned in (late) for the special issue on pleasure and about another letter. Even now I cannot quite comprehend the depth of this loss. Even now, I feel a stab of emotion as I search for his name in my email inbox and open the messages one by one. I can hear his voice in my head as I read his words.
Dipo Oyeleye, Doctoral Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Prof., it seems like yesterday when you bid the world goodbye. The pain often comes flooding back to me, like a broken dam, at the mention of your name and the legacy you left behind. Time, it seems, doesn't heal all wounds. You left us, but your presence looms large in many of the lives you've touched, personally and professionally. I still read our email exchanges and replay our conversations in my head every time I needed some guidance on framing an idea or making an intervention in my projects. I've asked myself countless times, "What will Teju say about this or that?" in the dissertation you were supervising before you passed. Beyond the things you taught, I missed your mentorship, quiet support, and kindness. I'm grateful for every way you've impacted my life as an advisor and a father figure. Your memory remains evergreen in our hearts. Rest well, great man.
Kolawole Olaiya, Associate Professor
I Miss You, Tejumola, My Teacher, Mentor, and Big Brother.
Almost a year ago, I lost my teacher, brother, friend, mentor, and helper, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan. Death snatched that humane and generous man, my teacher at Great Ife, who even in death, remains my teacher, mentor, helper, and big brother. I met this humble man with a booming voice at the University of Ife. Maybe it was the majestically authoritative voice with which he dissected those otherwise difficult dramatic theories to our young, eager minds at the Pit theatre, Great Ife, that did the magic and created a life-long relationship. To date, Tejumola has had the most profound influence on my academic life. He inspired and helped me to understand the importance and meaning of commitment to education. He was my role model at Ife; even in death, he still remains my role model. I owe a lot to Tejumola. He encouraged me to apply to for a Master’s degree in Nigeria, and later, for a Ph.D. program in Canada. Tejumola bridged the distance between Toronto, Canada, and the United States, to help me adjust to life in North America, when I was in graduate school. He always created time for me despite his extremely busy schedule. I am trying to understand the mystery of his sudden departure. I appreciate God for giving me the privilege to know Tejumola. I miss you, my oga. But I am happy to use this opportunity to celebrate my teacher, mentor, and big brother, a great teacher and a wonderful person whose legacy will live for ever.
Matthew H. Brown, Assistant Professor of African Cultural Studies,University of Wisconsin-Madison
Though we should all be avoiding the cliché “these uncertain times” (and, instead, be much more specific about which uncertainties confront us), a very good friend said to me recently that she felt like she could see no further than the end of her nose these days. Indeed, it is so hard to plan lately, whether for teaching, for writing, for being a good friend and family member, or for participating in conversations about making a world better than this one. Now, more than ever, I crave the kind of wisdom, insight, and advice that was unique to Teju. Of his many gifts, perhaps his greatest was his ability to see through every kind of intellectual clutter and uncover the shining gems of knowledge laying all around him. I would give anything for access to a bit of his gift today. Maybe the absurdity of this present, global, social madness is undeserving of Teju’s acuity, but then I think he also relished the absurd. After all, absurdity is nothing new. It just takes different forms in different times and places. In the scholarly world, Teju is famous for concepts like the “postcolonial incredible” and the “post-global, and I wonder if we are living in a kind of post-global incredible today, something too unbelievable for any of us to describe—and, yet, I’m sure he could describe better than most. And what’s more, his description would probably help me get through each day. I miss his voice as much now as a year ago, and I will never stop missing it.
Olúṣẹ́gun Ṣóẹ̀tán, Assistant Teaching Professor of African Studies, Pennsylvania State University
Memorial to TJ
In life, Ọ̀jọ̀gbọ́n Tẹ́jú, you were more than a teacher: you were a father. Despite your brilliance and global recognition, you shunned highfalutin. Instead, you chose humility. With the seriousness of a global scholar, you shaped my critical knowledge and honed my criticism skills. A teacher-mentor like you is a rarity in our academic universe. Your love for knowledge is tempered with grace and collegiality. With you, I had a shoulder to lean on and a staff to guide my path. Now that you are gone, I must fend for myself like an orphan. I sure miss your presence and mentoring, and I hope to find my way in the dark alley of our academic world! Indeed, you are an ancestor, and I pay homage to you. The ancient irúnmalẹ̀ with a loving heart! I pray thee to visit us, and never be tired of the annual run. Please come home to guide, eégún ńla-a-bẹ̀kú yàmù—the whirling masquerade with a boisterous lapel!
Ọmọ Olómù apẹ̀rán. One who hails from Omu, the mighty warrior
Ọmọ ọlọ́rọ́ agogo-idẹ Owner of a finely-forged brass bell
Àsìngbà lọ́nà t' Òmù. The one with plenty of servants
Ọmọ moṣì lóde Ọ̀rẹ̀. The offspring of Moṣi at Ọ̀rẹ̀
Ìrèlé awùsì l'Omù. Ìrèlé the beautiful one at Òmù
Ọmọ òpòpó ya mẹ́ta ọ̀ra. Offspring of those locate at Ọ̀ra crossroad
Ìyànà mẹfà tọjà Òjùmọ̀. Six pathways at the Òjùmọ̀ market
Ọmọ Ọládẹgàn; ọmọ onímalẹ̀-mẹ́rìndínlógún. The child of Ọládẹgàn, owner of two dozen deities
Ọmọ onírínwó ẹbọra. Possessor of four hundred incubus
Àdúróbọ ni tèmi; àbẹ̀rẹ̀bọ ni tèmi. I stand to appease; I bend to venerate
Ọmọ àkọ̀yìnsí lojúù mi ò tó. That which come from the rear I do not see
Àsìngbà lọ́nà t' Òmù. The one they worship and pay homage to at Òmù
Ọmọ eléégun kegé laré ọ̀jẹ̀. Owner of a beautiful masquerade with a million lappet
Sùn un re o—Sleep well, my teacher-mentor!
Uni Dyer, Ph.D. candidate in Department of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
One year, that is what I grew up knowing as the mourning period. That year has passed, and I make myself believe the mourning is different. Where the absence was unfathomable now we fill it (if we are so inclined) with that Tshivenda affirmation: “you are returned”, resettled and we express jubilation. Where once we were cloaked in the protective embrace of the dark color of the incubatory womb now, we drape our bodies in colorful vibrancy. Our whispering voices must be cleared to call over heads and sing. Bodies that have been bent must now ready for a dance. Ours is a sensory awakening, we invite movement and flow back into the everyday. We ready ourselves to invite you into our lives again. You will not be accompanied drum beating, by Elesin-like-character like the King in “Death and the King's Horsemen”, but Fela will surely make us move in our new spaces where we gather these days with only those immediate relations. From the chthonic abys we usher you back as the living-dead so your ‘bountiful baritone’ may resonate now in our dreams and your critical eye guides our writing. All this fuss is what comes with everything you meant to us. Aa!