Expectations high as Akure hosts Soyinka, Fagunwa conference

The 85th birthday celebrations of Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka which began in July, will continue well into August as the second international conference of the Fagunwa Study Group (FSG) will honour him and the late D.O.Fagunwa.

With ‘Wole Soyinka, D.O. Fagunwa and the Yoruba Artistic Heritage’ as its theme, the conference partly sponsored by the Ondo State Government, will happen from August 7 to 11 at the International Culture and Events Centre (The Dome), Akure.

Literary and academic giants from across the world will participate in the conference in honour of the literary icon whose 85th birthday was on July 13.

At a media briefing in Lagos, the Chair, organising committee of the conference, Professor Tunde Babawale, explained that the theme was chosen because Soyinka and Fagunwa are foremost figures in 20th century Nigerian and African literature.

Babawale who briefed alongside Executive Editor of TheNews/PM News, Kunle Ajibade and Professor Wumi Raji said: “Professor Soyinka is 85, and we feel that it is essential that we celebrate this icon of African literature that is our own.  Everything that should be done to celebrate him will be a thing done in the right direction. We are motivated by the fact that these two literary figures have done a lot to promote not just Yoruba heritage but also Africa’s artistic heritage. To a large extent, they have been able to raise a lot of issues about the positive aspects of our tradition, and their works seem to interact at several points. Although they wrote in two different primary languages, they both drank from the same cultural well.”

He further explained that primary language or medium notwithstanding, their works offer “forward-tilting progress (ìlọsíwájú) and upward escalation (ìdàgbàsókè) as chief driving forces of life and the artistic-narrative contemplation of same.”

Soyinka, continued Babawale, “remains the preeminent scholar, translator, and populariser of Fágúnwà’s works. This is not just in terms of Ṣóyínká’s pioneer status in the enterprise but also in how influential his interpretations of Fágúnwà have been on subsequent efforts. Together and in the context of the expansive cultural and literary traditions they draw from, their work allows us to critically juxtapose and interactively explore key elements of modern African sensibilities and consciousness: orality and literacy, community and the individual, tradition and innovation, secularity and religion, freedom and unfreedom, ethics and aesthetics, the modern nation-state and its fragments, culture and politics, and antiquity and modernity.”

Among dignitaries expected at the conference are Professor Wole Soyinka himself, members of D.O. Fagunwa’s immediate family and governors of all the southwest states. Benin Republic’s former Permanent Representative at UNESCO, Professor OlabiyiYai; academic and Editorial Board Member of The Nation Newspaper, Professor RopoSekoni; Professor Biodun Jeyifo of Harvard University; playwright and Nigeria National Merit Award (NNMA) winner, Professor Femi Osofisan will also be attending as well as Special Adviser on Political Matters to the Vice President, Babafemi Ojudu.

The conference will have two keynote speakers; Adeleke Adeeko, Distinguished Professor of English at Ohio State University, Columbus, USA, and Moradewun Adejumobi, Professor of African Studies at the University of California at Davis.

In addition to several panels on the theme of the conference, it will also feature tributes to Soyinka, Africa’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

‘Sidi Ilujinle’, the film adaptation of Soyinka’s ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ will be screened at a welcome banquet in honour of Soyinka by the Ondo State Government on August 7. Veteran musician and Soyinka protege, Uncle Jimi Solanke, will also perform at the dinner. Okey Ndibe’s book of interviews with Soyinka, published by Bookcraft Limited, will also be formally presented at the conference.

The Durham Mead Professor of English and Wole Soyinka Professor of Humanities, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA, TejumolaOlaniyan is the convener of the conference.  Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is the Chief Host.

The FSG is a body of scholars, academics and intellectuals mainly of Yoruba origin, committed to organising regular scholarly activities including conferences, seminars, debates, roundtables, workshops and lectures on Yoruba cultural, literary and educational issues.

The group organised an international conference in August 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of D.O. Fagunwa, author of famous Yoruba classic novels including ‘Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole’, ‘IrekeOnibudo’ and ‘Igbo Olodumare.’

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