- Tejumola Olaniyan:Tribute and Celebration of a Quintessentially Boisterous and Illustrious Intellectual Career
Tejumola Olaniyan was a child of destiny. He was destined to be great. Indeed, he was great; he was a great scholar and amazing researcher. Fondly called Teju or T. J. by friends and colleagues, he lived from April 3, 1959 to November 30, 2019. He studied in the Department of Dramatic Arts, the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), the department and the university where I also studied. In 1982, he became the president of the Dramatic Arts Students' Association. Teju was the first to earn First Class Honors for the Bachelor of Arts in the department (in 1982), something achieved by only one other student since. Teju earned a master's degree in the Department of English at the University of Ife and became a lecturer in the Department of Dramatic Arts before he relocated to the US in the 1980s, where he earned another master's degree and a PhD at Cornell University.
The first time I heard about Teju was in 2008 while I was in the final year of my undergraduate studies at Ife. With the fantastic stories of Teju's exploits I heard and his works I encountered, my respect and admiration for him grew. I didn't have a chance to meet Teju until summer 2012 when he visited his alma mater, where I was then a young and enthusiastic lecturer. In 2013, Teju sent me an email to invite me to the inaugural conference on D. O. Fagunwa at Akure. Meeting Teju, again, was an exciting experience. He and I continued to interact and exchange emails and in 2015, I joined Teju at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I pursued my graduate career. Indeed, I continued to interact with Teju; maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship after I left the university. Fortunately enough, he and I met again in Ohio for the African Literature Association conference, just about seven weeks after he turned sixty.
Teju began as an assistant professor at the University of Virginia before he joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was Louise Durham Mead Professor of English and African Cultural Studies. Shortly before his death at the age of sixty, he was named Wole Soyinka Professor of the Humanities. He had many roles in the Department of African Cultural Studies, including as chair. His thoughts and scholarship provided much inspiration, as well as provocations [End Page 215] and debates among both students and colleagues, whose respect and confidence he earned, largely. It was my habit to visit his office and discuss my intellectual findings with him. Via emails, physical conversations, panel presentations, and other avenues, I would engage him in discussions on intellectual matters and issues I encountered in his works that I read. On virtually every Thanksgiving, Teju opened his house to his colleagues and graduate students, including myself.
Intellectual giant that he was, Teju died with dozens of laurels on his forehead, like an Olympic athlete who was decorated with multiple gold medals. Teju died a champion. He died an achiever. When he turned sixty, his teacher and mentor Biodun Jeyifo wrote a tribute to celebrate Teju's accomplishments. I never anticipated having to write my own so soon after.
Till the moment of his death, Teju was the editor in chief of the Journal of the African Literature Association (JALA). Teju was the president of the African Literature Association between 2014 and 2015 and was a visible presence in the African Studies Association. A gregarious man with a great sense of humor, tall and lanky with a deep and unmistakable voice, Teju was brilliant and thorough, calculative and strategic. He was ambitious and enthusiastic. Well-composed and dynamic, Teju was full of confidence and courage. He was innovative. He will be greatly missed—great scholar that he was. May his soul rest in peace. [End Page 216]