Africana Studies Professor Ojaide Receives Prize For Literature

Tanure Ojaide, Frank Porter Graham Professor of Africana Studies at UNC Charlotte, is co-recipient of the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for his book, Songs of Myself.

This year’s competition had 110 submissions from 11 countries, including Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and Rwanda. Soyinka presented the prize on December 9, 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria at a gala attended by numerous African literati. The Lumina Foundation established the prize in 2005 in honor of Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in literature.

Songs of Myself: Quartet is deeply rooted in the indigenous African poetic transition,” Ojaide wrote in the foreword of his book. “The great udje poets first composed songs paying tribute to the god of songs, followed by songs of self-exhortation, and then songs mocking themselves before satirizing others. This collection incorporates some of these aspects of the oral poetic genre in its four-part structure.”

Ojaide shared the prize with Ugandan Harriet Anena, who was honored for “A Nation in Labour.” Each received a $10,000 cash prize, medal and trophy.

Ojaide joined the UNC Charlotte faculty in 1990 after teaching at The University of Maiduguri in Nigeria. Now at age 70, he has long turned to his Niger Delta homeland for reflection and inspiration. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to collect and study the Udje dance songs of the Urhobo people.

“Tanure is the most prolific and most decorated faculty poet in the UNC system, and one of the leading African writers of our time,” says Akin Ogundiran, outgoing chair of the Africana Studies Department. “Yet, this literary giant has an unassuming personality. Many people on campus would not know that Ojaide is one of the pioneers of what we now call environmental literature or eco-criticism.”

Anena (from left), Wole and Ojaide at awards ceremony

Ojaide has won more than a dozen book prizes and accolades, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, Cadbury Poetry Prize, and the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Poetry Award. He received UNC Charlotte’s First Citizens Bank Scholar Medal Award in 2005, and was named the Frank Porter Graham Professor of Africana Studies in 2006. He has received two Fulbright fellowships.

In 2016, he was decorated with Nigeria’s highest academic honor, the Nigerian National Order of Merit, and received the African Literature Association’s Fonlon-Nichols Award in recognition of his scholarly contributions to democratic ideals, humanistic values, and literary excellence in Africa. Three celebrations honoring his life’s work have been held in 2018.

Ojaide’s two latest books are God’s Naked Children (Malthouse Press, 2018) and The Questioner (Kraftgriots, 2018). The former is a collection of short stories written over a period of five years. The stories are fictional but inspired by the author’s experiences and reflections on everyday encounters. The Questioner is a collection of 105 new poems, taking “into consideration the African experience in the age of globalization and . . . technology, and the need to sharpen the intellectual appetite through novel aesthetic experimentations,” he said in the book’s forward.

Read more about Ojaide and his work here.


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