The annual Edmund Kemper Broadus lectures are a series of scholarly discourses sponsored and hosted by the Department of English & Film Studies and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, and named after the legendary first Head of English at the U of A., a Virginian by birth, lured from Harvard to central Alberta by President Henry Marshall Tory in 1908 to found and run one of the University’s four original departments, which he did with distinction until 1936, the year of his death.
In 1971-72, Professor Chris Drummond delivered a series of lectures that, the following year, officially gave rise to an annual departmental lecture series known as the Edmund Kemper Broadus lectures.
In November 2018, Professor Onookome Okome delivered two public lectures on "Teaching Animist Africa" and "Teaching the African Literary Text".
Teaching Animist Africa
How might one teach a subject that has been defined and represented in “outside literature” and other forms of cultural expressions, a subject that began its history as the reified other in modernist discourse? And in what ways, if any, can the teacher of this subject navigate century-old episteme about this subject in which he or she is implicated as a symbol of and for that world? In the first of the two-part presentation, Prof. Okome speaks to the very idea of an animist Africa, which persists in and outside the classroom and from which the teacher must find ways to make his or her self invincible. He plans to make the argument that teaching this Africa and the literature about and from this continent must recognize the full discursive power and pervasiveness of this animist presence in the classroom. Negotiating and going beyond this animist discourse must proceed from pedagogical strategies that negotiate the self in ways that complicates the presence of the teacher and the text in the classroom.
Teaching the African Literary Text
In ways that subverted the very intentions of Africa authors who wrote in one or more European languages, critical reception of African writing in the 1950s and 1960s in the West iterated the very sense of the other, and the reference to this body of literature as “animist” was always part of the discourse. This is still the case today. Not even Chinua Achebe’s now famous Things Fall Apart was spared this regime of reading. In the second part of this presentation, Prof. Okome discusses instances of such animist reading, which comes from, as Harry Garuba puts it, “the animist understanding of the African world…built around colonial understanding of the dual knowledge of the colonized and the colonizer.” To do this, he will use three “popular” African literary texts, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsman (1971) and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace (1998).
Both lectures took place at 3:30 p.m. in Lecture Theatre 1 of the Humanities Centre, University of Alberta.
Monday 19 November, 2018: Lecture 1: “Teaching Animist Africa”
Wednesday 21 November, 2018: Lecture 2: “Teaching the African Literary Text”
A reception in the Department of English and Film Studies, Humanities Centre Third Floor, followed the lecture on Wednesday. Everyone is welcome to these talks, which are aimed at the general public.
Professor Onookome Okome’s research has been on Anglophone African literature, especially Nigerian literature, which includes the growing field of what he has described as "the literature of oil in Nigeria's Niger Delta." He edited and published a number of books and essays in this field of African studies, including an edited volume on the environmental rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Before I am Hanged: Ken Saro-Wiwa: Literature, Politics and Dissent (2000). In the last ten years, he has been particularly focused on researching African popular culture, working around the idea that the study of this area of African life helps us understand the "art of the everyday" on the continent. In 2012, Stephanie Newell (School of English, University of Sussex, UK) and I extended the theoretical inquiry in this field by revisiting the seminal essay, "Popular Culture in Africa (1987)" by Karin Barber, reexamining its basic arguments in the light of the emergence of new popular art forms in the continent. This resulted in two seminal publications, Popular Culture in Africa: The Episteme of the Everyday (New York: Routlege, 2014) and a special issue of Research in African Literatures (RAL), "Measuring Time: Karin Barber and the Study of Everyday Africa" 43/4, 2012. Onitsha Market Pamphlets and the text of the Nollywood film form a significant part of his case study in this research into the everyday art of Africans who live "at the bottom of the streets." He is currently working on a book length study, Nollywood: Text, Context, Controversy.
He teaches race and literature, colonialism and 20th century Africa, African literature, African cinema, postcolonial literature and theory at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He is a deep admirer of Franz Fanon, Langston Hughes and Nagib Mahfouz.