Orange Alert

The SU Humanities Center continues 'conflict' theme with lecture, symposium devoted to modern African literature, Oct. 14-15

Focus on modern African literature

Sept. 30, 2010, by Rob Enslin

The Syracuse University Humanities Center continues its exploration of “conflict” with a daylong symposium devoted to modern African literature. Named for an English professor in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, “The Michael J.C. Echeruo Valedictory Symposium: Fifty Years of African Literature and Scholarship in the Academy, 1960-2010,” will take place on Friday, October 15, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in The SU Humanities Center Seminar Room (304) in The Tolley Building. 

Renowned Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will inaugurate the symposium with a lecture titled “Negotiating Beauty” the day before at 4:15 p.m. in Watson Theater of the Menschel Media Center. Her lecture is sponsored by Syracuse Symposium, whose theme this year is “Conflict: Peace and War.” 

Both events are free and open to the public, and are sponsored by The SU Humanities Center, The College of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of English. For more information, call 315-443-7192 or visit 

“This symposium examines ‘conflict’ through the lens of modern African literary scholarship,” says Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities and founding director of The SU Humanities Center. “We have assembled more than a dozen leading lights from around the world to reflect on their experiences of the reading, teaching, and researching of African literature in the academy.” 

Guest speakers include an array of scholars who are friends and colleagues of Echeruo's: Kofi Anyidoho (University of Ghana), Chukwuma Azuonye (University of Massachusetts Boston), Ernest Emenyonu (University of Michigan), Simon Gikandi (Princeton University), Kenneth Harrow (Michigan State University), Biodun Jeyifo (Harvard University), Anthonia Kalu (The Ohio State University), Bernth Lindfors (University of Texas at Austin), Lokangaka Losambe (University of Vermont), Biola Irele (Kwara State University, Nigeria), Emmanuel Obiechina (Harvard University), and Tejumola Olaniyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Echeruo (above), who serves as the William Safire Professor in Modern Letters in SU’s English department, says one of the goals of the symposium is to assess the current relationship between African literature and the academy. “In politics, in literature, in social formations, and in popular culture, 1960 began a full decade of African nationalist and cultural renaissance," says Echeruo, who has held various positions on both sides of the Atlantic, including a decade-long stint as president of Imo State University in his native Nigeria. “The shape of African literature and its study in the next half-century could depend on how far patterns of literary engagement follow current globalizing trends, and how far other approaches native to Africa will emerge to re-invigorate creation and criticism.”

Adichie's lecture the day before will begin the process by exploring the idea of identity labels and the impact they have had on the works of selected African writers, including her own. A 2008 MacArthur Fellow, she is the author of the award-winning novels “Purple Hibiscus” (Anchor, 2003) and “Half of a Yellow Sun” (Anchor, 2006) and of the critically acclaimed short-story collection “The Thing Around Your Neck” (Knopf, 2009).

"I marvel at the subtlety of the emotional reaches of her work. What her men lose in honor and virtue, her women gain in courage and resilience. I had not expected that from a young writer,” observes Echeruo.

Launched in 2001, Syracuse Symposium has quickly become a fall tradition at SU, drawing thousands of people to free lectures, panel discussions, performances and exhibitions built on annual themes. Past symposia include “Migration,” “Justice” and last year’s theme, “Light.” Since 2009, The SU Humanities Center has organized and presented Syracuse Symposium for The College of Arts and Sciences and the University community.

Founded in 2008, The SU Humanities Center fosters public engagement in the humanities, as well as scholarship in and across various fields of humanistic inquiry. The center is home to Syracuse Symposium; The Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation initiative; The Jeanette K. Watson Visiting Collaborator; and other major research initiatives, fellowships and public programming.

Media Contact

Rob Enslin