Africa In Our Lives: Caitlin Tyler-Richards

When she’s not writing her dissertation on Nigerian literature, Caitlin Tyler-Richards can probably be found working on or dreaming of escaping Wisconsin winters. She shares how she first became enthralled by African literature, and how students can engage with Africa beyond “a field of study.”

Field of Study: African History
Hometown: Rockville, Maryland

Tyler-Richards with Dr. Jimoh Ganiyu, a political cartoonist whom goes by the name Jimga, at the University of Lagos. (Submitted photo)

What brought you to Madison?

Not the weather.

What is your favorite winter activity?

Watching my corgi bound through the snow like a furry gazelle.

What inspired your studies of Africa?

During undergrad, I became fascinated with the intersection of literature and history: how both authors and historians explore the past and use many of the same literary devices to make it accessible to others. And the more history and literature classes I took, there more I found that there was no field or genre in which this idea seems more prescient than in African literature and African history. Also, honestly, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told me my senior thesis on Nigerian novels sounded interesting and so I kept going.

Tell us a bit about your current research.

I’m currently in Nigeria working on my dissertation, which explores how Nigerians have produced, circulated and consumed Nigerian Anglophone and vernacular fiction since 1945. By studying this history, I hope to better understand how and why Nigerians continue to attach value to fiction — especially considering the persistent refrain that Nigeria doesn’t have a reading culture. I spend a lot of time browsing in bookstores and talking to people about why they love books — it’s great.

I ultimately aim to demonstrate that Nigerian literary history is a global history; and, therefore, Nigeria (and Africa more generally) should be approached as part of, not peripheral to or a victim of, world literary trends.

A copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (Algonquin 2003) published by Farafina (an imprint of Kachifo Ltd) that Tyler-Richards purchased in Lagos, Nigeria. (Submitted photo)

What has been the most interesting aspect of working on

All of it: coding in WordPress; working on a team; wondering, “How can I make this more pretty?” It’s all so different from historical research, where it’s just you, the archives and that dissertation looming in your future.

Have you found intersections between your research and your work with Africacartoons?

Oh definitely. Since my dissertation will be in part an online exhibition on Nigerian literary history, working on AfricaCartoons has helped me to think through how to design and execute a digital project. Relatedly, because the site has become not only an educational tool, but also a platform for cartoonists to share their work, it has also pushed me to think about how to make my work accessible and useful to the people whose history I study.

What advice would you give students who are interested in studying Africa?

I suppose I’d ask, “What else are you interested in?” Because no matter what the answer is — health, dance, literature, urban planning, etc — studying it in an African context will allow you to think about it in a new and exciting way. #AfricanStudiesDoesItBetter

I would also encourage them to follow Twitter, Instagram and/or other media accounts run by Africans (e.g. @DynamicAfrica, @brittlepaper, @okayafrica) to engage with the continent in a way beyond “a field of study.”

What is your dream job?

Ideally, someday soon (but not before I finish my dissertation), Cassava Press or some other African publishing company will open a US office and hire me as part of their acquisitions or marketing team.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Done with my dissertation, some place warm.

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

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