Tolulope Akinwole’s Journey and Appointment as Tenure -Track Assistant Professor of English at the UBC, Vancouver

Tolu’s initial interest in Global Black Literatures
Tolu’s journey in Global Black Literatures was ignited during his time as a Fulbright scholar, particularly through a class on the post-colonial African State led by the late Professor Tejumola Olaniyan. This course, notable for its encouragement of broad reading and critical thinking about governance in African nations, set Tolu on a path of discovery. His close collaboration with Professor Olaniyan during his master’s in African Cultural Studies, especially around his qualifying exams, further deepened his engagement with the field. Professor Olaniyan’s own first monograph, Scars of Conquest, modeled robust scholarship in Global Black Literatures to which Tolu aspired. This mentoring relationship culminated in Tolu focusing his research on the representation of African cities within Global Black Literatures, exploring how these urban spaces are both influenced by and contributors to globalization.

More about Tolu’s dissertation
Tolu delves into the pivotal role of public buses within African cities and their influence on literature. This research uncovers the dynamic interplay between the physical and cultural landscapes of African cities and their literature. Public buses, as depicted in works by authors such as Chimamanda Adichie in Americanah and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s in Devil on the Cross, become a lens through which the circulation of literary ideas and the societal impacts of urban life are explored. Tolu’s work probes the nuanced relationship between public bus culture and literary expression, revealing how buses not only serve as settings within these narratives but also influence book covers and symbolize the communal experiences, aspirations, and humor inherent in urban African life.

How Tolu’s academic journey from the University of Lagos to UW-Madison have shaped his approach to literature and theory
Tolu’s journey from the University of Lagos to the University of Wisconsin-Madison has profoundly influenced his approach to literature. Tolu’s undergraduate and master’s program in English Language at the University of Lagos were pivotal, where his mentors encouraged him to delve deeply into literature for insightful discoveries. It was here, during his master’s program, that he embarked on an exploratory project on “African Cartoons,” laying the groundwork for his interdisciplinary approach to literary studies. Transitioning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for further studies, Tolu found an intellectual environment that fostered an even broader exploration of English Literature and its capacities. This setting enabled him to rigorously test and expand the boundaries of traditional English Literature by weaving in concepts and methodologies from various disciplines. Discussing his dissertation, Tolu articulates his interdisciplinary approach with clarity “If there is an idea in the social sciences, I am there. If it is in science and technology studies, why not? I do not stay in literature alone.”

Tolu’s key mentors and community that significantly impacted his research direction and teaching aspirations during his doctoral studies
In his doctoral journey, a significant influence on Tolu’s research direction and teaching aspirations came from his advisor and dissertation chair, Monique Allewaert. Following Professor Olaniyan’s passing, Monique stepped in to guide and support Tolu. Despite her initial unfamiliarity with the public bus system and culture in Lagos, she demonstrated a remarkable openness to learning alongside Tolu and collaboratively refining ideas for his dissertation. Tolu holds deep admiration for Monique’s thorough approach to reading and aspires to mirror such dedicated mentorship with his own students.

Additionally, the Department of English and the African Studies Program have been instrumental in Tolu’s academic progression. Another significant figure in his journey has been Dean Moji Olaniyan, Professor Olaniyan’s wife, who has provided unwavering support. Others to whom he feels indebted include Matthew Brown, Russ Castronovo, Ainehi Edoro, Carli Coetzee, and Tosin Gbogi – all of whom provided needed guidance.

Tolu’s decision to accept the TT Assistant Professor of English position at the UBC, Vancouver, and how he believes UBC’s academic environment and resources will support his continued research and teaching in Global Black Literatures.
Tolu was drawn to UBC’s Department of English Language and Literatures because of its stance against systemic injustices within the discipline. His campus visit revealed UBC’s commitment to addressing issues of systemic injustice and epistemic violence against minoritized peoples, especially through the recruitment of diverse faculty members and the redesign of its curriculum to foster a more socially conscious approach to literary studies. This intentional shift towards inclusivity and critical engagement resonated with Tolu’s own values and the kind of academic environment he sought for his teaching and research. Moreover, the interdisciplinary and boundary-pushing thinkers he met within the department convinced him of UBC’s compatibility with his approach in his work.

Tolu also admired the Vancouver campus of UBC and the city’s diversity. The city’s vibrant bus culture, in particular, presents an exciting opportunity to deepen his research on the public bus’ role in literature.

Tolu’s anticipations for teaching and research as he transitions to his new role
Tolu looks forward to being part of the many research initiatives at UBC.

How Tolu plans to incorporate his interests in Global Black Literatures into his curriculum
As Tolu embarks on his new role, he is particularly excited about fostering multidimensional thinking among his students. He aims to enhance their cross-cultural sensibilities and encourage them to embrace diverse ideas that shape their understanding of the world.

For graduate students, Tolu aspires to offer the same level of kindness and support he received from his professors and community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Lagos. He considers it crucial to assist graduate students in finding their unique voices and making their own contributions to their disciplines, embodying the mentorship and academic growth he values highly.

Tolu’s advice to graduate students or early-career scholars interested in exploring similar themes in their work or career path
Tolu emphasizes the importance of the community and the role of kindness in his academic journey. He points out that kindness, often overlooked in academia, is fundamental to being a good academic citizen. Tolu advises graduate students to practice kindness towards themselves and others, and to look out for the good of others.

Given graduate students are expected to excel in research, teaching, and service, Tolu highlights that all these facets are examined during job interviews. It’s not just about individual achievements; departments look for candidates who will be good academic citizens. This belief in supporting and uplifting others inspired Tolu to help initiate the Graduate Working Group (GWG), showcasing his commitment to collective growth and kindness. According to Tolu, being a valuable academic citizen involves not only personal excellence but also fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for all.