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Writers, scholars, celebrate Okpewho at graveside

By HENRY AKUBUIRO

September 4 will mark the first-year anniversary of the demise of foremost scholar of African oral literature and award-winning novelist, Professor Isidore Okpewho. Keeping in tune with his general quiet lifestyle often away from the limelight, his family has chosen to mark this important anniversary in a private way.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Nduka Otiono, a notable mentee of Prof. Okpewho, averred: “To commemorate the one-year anniversary of Prof. Isidore Okpewho’s passing, his family will be gathering with friends to share memories, stories and prayers at his graveside in celebration of his rich life and legacy.”

Prof Otiono recalled that, within this first year of the death of the author of over a dozen books, intellectuals from various parts of the world have acclaimed the genius of Isidore Okpewho as a distinguished man of letters.  “Among several activities held posthumously in his honour, a special roundtable on his life and work at the 2017 African Literature Association (ALA) conference at Yale University,  is particularly noteworthy,” said Otiono.

Chaired by the new President of ALA, Prof. Adeleke Adeeko, the Roundtable featured associates and speakers who had been taught by professor Okpewho and who had become professors in their own right in North America.

It should be recalled that Prof. Okpewho, who died on September 4, 2016 at age 74, was buried on September 17 at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, New Jersey, United States of America. He was a Nigerian novelist and critic, who won the 1976 African Arts Prize for Literature, and the 1993 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Best Book Africa. Also a classicist and scholar, he has been described as one of the most brilliant men of his generation and one of Nigeria’s most iconic literary figures”. His academic career took him to the US, where he lived with his wife and four children since 1991 until his death, in Binghamton, New York.

The prolific scholar-writer co-wrote and edited some 14 books, dozens of articles and a seminal booklet, A Portrait of the Artist as a Scholar (an inaugural lecture delivered at the Faculty of Education Lecture Theatre, University of Ibadan, on 18 May 1989). He was the author of four acclaimed novels, The Victims (1970), The Last Duty (1976, winner in manuscript of the African Arts Prize for Literature, an international competition organised by the African Arts Centre, UCLA), Tides (1993, winner of that year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Africa region), and Call Me By My Rightful Name (2004). On Monday, September 4th, the Delta Literary Forum (DLF), will be organising a Special Literary Programme to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the passing of the Deltan. Highlights of the evening will be special readings from two of his award-winning books: The Victims and The Last Duty. There will also be short critiques, eulogies, anaectodes and other commentaries.

Expected guests include Prof. Pat Muoboghare Dr. Sunny Awhefedha, Prof. Nduka Otiono of Carlton University, Canada; Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, Odia Ofeimum and an array of literary personae and patrons, the Literary community, well-wishers, as well as members of the great Okpewho family. The programme, which holds at Hotel Benezie, Asaba, will start at 1 pm.

Tributes

Prof. Okey Ndibe, celebrated writer, public intellectual, and Viebranz Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at St Lawrence University, Canton, U.S.A., said on Okpewho’s one-year anniversary: “In a world forged by human fantasy, a man like Okpewho, polyglot scholar extraordinaire, would never die, but remain forever among mortals, his capacity for consequential thought enriching and irrigating humanity. And yet, because he brought his intellect to bear on so many areas of knowledge production, he left us a rich and enduring legacy. He ensured that, though no longer in the physical realm, his voice and wisdom remain, escorting us, teaching and expanding us.”

Marame Gueye, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Literatures in the Department of English at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC United States (also an old student of Prof Okpewho at State University of Binghamton, New York), said: “It is hard to believe that it has already been one year since we said goodbye to Prof. Losing a scholar and mentor such as Isidore Okpewho is like losing a parent. It gets bearable but the void is and will always be in my heart. However, each time I think about him, I am thankful for who he was and the abundant legacy he left behind him. He lives in his work and our memories.”

Likewise, Chiji Akọma, Acting Chair, Department of Global Interdisciplinary Studies and Associate Professor of English, Villanova University, U.S.A., said: “Time has flown quickly by, mercifully leaving intact fondest memories of a great husband and father, an illustrious patriot, and a consummate scholar and teacher. In his bereaved wife, children, grandchildren, siblings, a throng of friends and students, and a library of seminal and monumental publications, Prof lives on, a true iroko tree standing majestic in the public square, unperturbed by the passage of time.”

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