The lecture for the 2022 winners of the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) will be given by Professor Niyi Osundare. To take place in Abuja on December 7, 2022, the topic is, “Poetry And The Human Voice”. “It will be taking place within the context of the Annual Forum of NNMA Laureates,” Osundare told The Guardian. He was the 2014 recipient of NNMA, Nigeria’s highest recognition for distinguished academic and creative achievement.
The poet, dramatist, critic, essayist, and media columnist has authored over 20 books of poetry, two books of selected poems (with individual poems in over 70 journals and magazines across the world), four plays, a book of essays, and numerous monographs and articles on literature, language, culture, and society. He regards his calling as a writer and his profession as a teacher as essentially complementary.
Born on March 12, 1947, in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria, which has been described by the University of New Orleans, United States of America as one of the most linguistically and culturally heterogeneous countries in the world, he learnt early in life the complexities and challenges of diversity.
Osundare attended the St. Luke’s Primary School and Amoye Secondary School, both in Ikere-Ekiti, before moving on to the Christ School, Ado-Ekiti, which has produced many of the country’s finest intellectuals.
Graduating from the University of Ibadan, with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1972, Osundare went on to earn a master’s degree in English in 1974 from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, with his thesis, Yoruba Proverbs: A Study in the Problems of Translation. After a two-year stint, beginning in 1972, as Assistant Lecturer at the Department of English, University of Ibadan, Osundare went to York University, Toronto, Canada in 1976 to undertake the doctoral programme in English, which he completed in 1979, earning the Ph.D. degree, with his dissertation on Bilingual and Bicultural Aspects of Nigerian Prose Fiction.
From modest but cultured beginnings in Ikere-Ekiti, through his cosmopolitan academic and professional engagements with the humanities at Ibadan, Leeds, and York, and several other universities across the world, Osundare has bestrode the world of scholarship in Literature like a colossus. It is not surprising, therefore, that knowledgeable critics have acknowledged ‘the fecundity’ of Osundare’s scholarship, the “unique blend of intellectual acuity and moral rigour” and “the capacity to agitate that dialectical space between accommodation and resistance in a given social order”—all of which typically anchor his scholarship.
In announcing the award, the NNOM committee had noted: “The high water-mark of Niyi Osudare’s academic and teaching career, which began with his appointment in 1974, as Assistant Lecturer at the University of Ibadan, where he became Professor in 1989, and which continued with his appointment as Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, USA in 1997, was his appointment to a Distinguished Professorship at the University of New Orleans.
“This is the highest professorship appointment in the University, to which only the rarest scholars, who have “established a truly distinguished national and international record in scholarship and creative work,” are appointed. The Chairperson of the Department of English Department described the appointment as “a fitting tribute to [Niyi Osundare’s] achievements and stature as poet, scholar- critic and teacher.”
Osundare’s areas of specialisation are African Literature, Literature of the African Diaspora, Literary Stylistics, Sociolinguistics, and Creative Writing.
In 2005, he was selected Fellow of the Nigeria Academy of Letters (NAL), the country’s highest Academy for the Humanities. About his passion for teaching, he has this to say: “For me, the classroom is a vital space inhabited – no, lived – by students and teachers as partners, even collaborators, in a process of intellectual and social inquiry and exchange …. I strive to be the kind of teacher who challenges and inspires…”
For his creative works, Osundare has received many prizes and awards: the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prize, the Cadbury/ANA Prize, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (which he won on two different occasions, 1989 and 1994), the Noma Award (Africa’s most prestigious book award), the Tchicaya U Tam’si Award for African Poetry, and the Fonlon/Nichols Award for “excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa”.
He has carried out readings and performances of his works in many parts of the world, and his poems have been translated into French, Italian, Slovenian, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, and Serbian.
In 2016, he was awarded the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) honoris causa, by his alma mater, the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He has also been a recipient of honorary doctorates from the Universite de Toulouse-le Mirail in France and Franklin Pierce University in Rindge New Hampshire, USA.