D. O. Fagunwa: Fifty Years On

The year 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the tragic death of Chief Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa (Dec. 1963), the renowned Yoruba-Nigerian author and educationist. With the publication in 1938 of Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Fagunwa initiated a practice of Yoruba-language imaginative writing which quickly generated a tradition within Nigeria, and beyond the Yoruba language. His other novels include Igbo Olodumare (1949), Ireke Onibudo (1949), Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (1954), and Adiitu Olodumare (1961). The success of his five novels, the last of which was published in 1961, was phenomenal: by 1986, Ogboju Ode had gone through twenty-four reprints; several Yoruba authors were publishing novels in the genre of spiritual adventure-cum heroic quest he popularized; the career of Amos Tutuola was in full swing; and Wole Soyinka’s translation of the first novel would soon introduce Fagunwa to the English-speaking world. But Fagunwa did not just write novels, he also wrote travelogues, essays, petitions, and translated other literature into Yoruba.  The tradition thus initiated has shown remarkable resilience and continued to influence different categories of intellectuals in diverse disciplines.  At the last count, there have been four translations of three of the novels, and numerous works of scholarship continue to be published on the novels.

Critics have identified Fagunwa’s role as a creative user of the Yoruba language, creating the language in the very act of using it, and this judgment has been extended to the author’s self-apprehension as simultaneously Yoruba, Nigerian, African, Black and modern subject. This subtle deployment of language as an instrument of multiple self-fashionings is only one feature of the scholarship; there is also the status of his work as complex literary signs which cannot be reduced to the historical context of their creation. Such self-fashionings have implications beyond the boundaries of literature, and into philosophy, anthropology, sociology, religion, and so on.

What is the significance of Fagunwa’s work in the history of African letters? In what ways have the engagement of writers, translators, and scholars with this paradoxically small but dense body of work demonstrated the diverse origins and influences of Fagunwa’s artistic practice? What do Fagunwa’s works mean for our understanding of the relationship between Africa and modernity, the evolution of African philosophy, the possibility of deploying African literature in sociological research and, generally, the development of African languages? We propose an international conference to examine the impact and significance of the work of this foundational Yoruba writer.  We recognize the broad cultural, literary, political, and institutional dimensions of Fagunwa’s oeuvre, and invite submissions that use his written works, in Yoruba and in English or other languages of translation, to explore issues that illuminate these questions. We conceive of this conference as the beginning of a process of inquiry which brings together writers, scholars, artists who have been working in different ways on major and minor issues that pertain to the writer’s work.