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African Literary Critic Prof Abiola Francis Irele Dies At 81


The news of the death of luminary Nigerian literary critic, Prof Abiola Irele shook the academic world. The death of Prof Irele is a massive blow to the literary community, not just in Africa but the world. Prof Irele was Africa’s leading literary critic, and he passed away at the age of 81. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Professor Abiola Irele: “An Identity of Passions: Negritude in the Black and Postcolonial World” on Feb. 9th. Photo: Facebook/ The Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities

The news of the death of Nigerian literary critic, Prof Abiola Irele shook the literary world. Nigirian poet and writer Ben Okri, before his speech at the Caine Prize awards asked for a one minute silence in respect of the literary giant. Prof Irele, was one of the foremost exponents of critical scholarship in Africa and has been called the doyen of Africanist literary scholars worldwide.

Prof Irele was formerly Professor of French, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and for several years he served as Professor of African, French, and Comparative Literature at the Ohio State University. After retiring from Ohio State in 2003, he became Visiting Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University before moving back to Nigeria.

He produced many publications including The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature (edited with Simon Gikandi) and two collections of essays, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology and The African Imagination: Literature in Africa and the Black Diaspora.Prof Irele was a contributing editor to The Norton Anthology of World Literature and General Editor of the Cambridge Studies in African and Caribbean Literature series.

He returned to Nigeria from Harvard University to take up position as the Provost of the newly founded Kwara State University in Ilorin. The Centre for Theory and Criticism was named after him. Prof Irele during the first Abiola Irele Seminar in Theory and Criticism said, “It is a major honour for me to be recognised. It is a great honour and I’m very, very grateful. And I see a bright future with this initiative. I feel honoured and a little bit embarrassed but I really feel honoured. The idea that an important and significant thing like this is named after you can be embarrassing. I do not want to be immodest, and too modest that I do not deserve it. I do not want to go that route; all I can say is, it was very unexpected and so really, I feel honoured.”

Prof Okey Ndibe on his Facebook wall posted, “Abiola Irele, a giant of African literary scholarship, is dead. His passing is a devastating loss for all who knew him personally, as I did, or through his stupendous scholarly work. He was one of our most insightful and generous scholars, a man whose weighty books illuminate Africa’s literary expressions and bridge the gulfs created by British and French colonial legacies in Africa. Beyond being an extraordinary, world class scholar, Irele was also a deeply humane person.
May his generous soul find eternal rest.”

For many of those in the literary circle, the death of Prof Irele is a huge blow to African scholarship. He also served as editor for Transition Magazine.

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