Ato Quayson to Give Keynote Speech at Tejumola Olaniyan Memorial Lecture

Date:  April 11 at 5:30 PM- 7:00PM

Venue: Conrad A. Elvehjem Building Room L140, 800 University Ave.

“Bí a bá perí akọni, a ó fida lalẹ”! When the soul of the beloved is addressed, it is right that the gestures be proper.

In a career that spanned over three decades, Tẹjumọla Ọlaniyan pursued a unique, capacious, and generous vision of humanistic scholarship in the field of African literary and cultural studies, including the black world as a whole and extending beyond it. “My deep interest,” he once asserted with characteristic precision, “is transdisciplinary teaching and research. My goal is the cultivation of critical self-reflexivity about our expressions and their many contexts.”

In this spirit, the UW-Madison Department of English and the Center for the Humanities is honored to present the second annual Tejumola Olaniyan Memorial Lecture with Professor Ato Quayson, Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies and Professor of English at Stanford University.

This lecture will pick up on an element of literary tragedy that Quayson raised in Tragedy and Postcolonial Literature but did not fully elaborate, namely, the place of disputatiousness in the history of tragic form and how this might help us to further tragedy from the Greeks to African literature. The Greeks give us great examples of disputatiousness: Oedipus vs. Tiresias, Clytemnestra vs Agamemnon, Medea vs Jason, and Antigone vs Creon, among others. But the determining mark of the Greek tragic characters was what might be described as their zero-sum wrath. Their sense of rightness goes as far as courting possible self-destruction. What we find in African and postcolonial tragedy is the transposition of historical disputatiousness into the ambiguation of attitudes to heroic action, whether collective or individual, which is itself brought on by colonial modernity. The lecture will proffer a theory of African and postcolonial tragedy drawing on a reading of colonial history and its relationship to the fraught individual processes of self-accounting. Quayson will be drawing examples from different literary traditions and cultures but will specifically focus on the rural novels of Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God) to ground his central propositions.

Professor Ato Quayson is the Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Professor of English, and Chair of the Department of English at Stanford University. He was educated at the University of Ghana and the University of Cambridge. He taught at the University of Cambridge, the University of Toronto, and New York University before arriving at Stanford. Professor Quayson has published six monographs and eight edited collections, including Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2014), which was the 2015 co-winner of the Urban History Association’s Best Book Prize (non-North America) and was listed by The Guardian as one of the 10 Best Books on Cities in 2014. His most recent book Tragedy and Postcolonial Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2021) been awarded the 2021 Warren- Brooks Award for literary criticism.  Professor Quayson is an elected Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, and of the British Academy.

The UW-Madison African Studies Program is offering a new Tejumola Olaniyan International Student Travel Award to support international students engaged in the study of Global Black Cultural Studies. Applications are due Thursday, March 10.