- Memorial Tribute:Pius Adesanmi
My memories of Pius Adesanmi are mostly clustered around the periods we spent together planning and assembling our coedited essay collections on new Nigerian writing (for English in Africa and Research in African Literatures, respectively). Pius came as a visiting professor to my base at the time, the National University of Lesotho, and I paid a return visit to his base then, Penn State University. We struck up an immediate friendship, staying in each other's houses, teasing each other without inhibition, and trying, without much success, to limit our wine consumption. Pius proved to be a very fine cook, taught by his mother, which enabled me to treat my friends to feasts of jollof rice. When it came to our editorial work (and somehow some of that did get done) most notable was Pius's skill in steering us through theoretical considerations, such as the concept of the "emergent" and—what turned out to be a problematic term—"third generation writing."
Other disparate yet complementary facets to Pius's work and character gradually emerged. There was, for example, his selfless commitment to monitoring junior faculty and also his breadth of interests. His undergraduate and postgraduate work had been in French, and he retained strong links with the Alliance Francaise, especially with their branch in Johannesburg. He had developed a working relationship with the West African language specialist Suzanne Platiel, with whom I had worked in northern Nigeria. He was, moreover, more than happy to engage in vigorous verbal wrestling matches on the work of Foucault and Lacan.
He was also a highly gifted and versatile creative writer. His collection The Wayfarer & Other Poems is a delightful work, alternately trenchant and featherlight, and the winner of the 2001 Association of Nigerian Authors poetry prize. Nine years later Pius was awarded the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing, nonfiction.
I failed to catch up with his later work—great regrets—but was briefly involved in his online forum site, GbounGboun. He struggled bravely, though not always successfully, to prevent this from getting bogged down in exchanges on, for example, ethnic rivalry or the language issue (though he did take the latter very seriously, as seen in his contribution to work on Ngũgĩ's essays). In other work he had no hesitation in targeting the powerful—and not only in the political sphere, [End Page 226] witness his 2015 piece on the Emir of Kano's taking an underage wife, which provoked a remarkably lame response from the Emir.
Pius was devoted to Nigeria, though fully conscious of its grievous ills and flaws, and had a strong pan-Africanist sensibility, very much in evidence during his stays in Lesotho and South Africa. In losing him, African literary studies has lost one of its brightest stars. [End Page 227]