F. Abiola Irele

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Francis Abiola Irele (commonly Abiola Irele, born 1936) is a Nigerian academic who has been called the doyen of Africanist literary scholars worldwide. He is currently Provost at the newly founded Kwara State University in Ilorin, Nigeria.[1] Before moving back to Nigeria, Irele was Visiting Professor of African and African American Studies and of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.[2][3]

Irele graduated from Ibadan University in 1960. Immediately after graduation, he went to Paris to learn French and completed a Ph.D in French at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1966. He held teaching positions at the University of Ghana, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and University of Ibadan. In 1989, he moved to Ohio State University in the U.S. as Professor of African, French and Comparative Literature.

Early life[edit]

Irele was born in Ora, Nigeria and moved to Enugu very early in his life. While he was Edo and was born in an area in which Ora was predominantly spoken, the first language he learned was Igbo; he learned Igbo from the servants who worked for his father and took care of him growing up.[4] After moving to Lagos in 1940, he began to speak Yoruba. In 1943, after a fight between his parents, Irele returned to Ora with his mother where he picked up Ora and developed a fluency in the language over the course of a year. However, after returning to Lagos in 1944 to live with his father, he began to predominantly speak Yoruba and maintained it as his ethnic identification.[4]

Irele's first encounters with literature was through folk tales and the oral poets that recounted "raras" in the streets. During the years of his formal education, Irele began to read more English literature.[4]


Irele helped to expound upon the understanding of Négritude first theorized by Léopold Sédar Senghor in his article "What is Negritude?" featured in Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson's African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. In his article, Irele defines Négritude as "the literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals, which took form as a distinctive and significant aspect of the comprehensive reaction of the black man to the colonial situation...".

In his collection of essays Négritude et condition africaine, Irele explores the question of African thought. He begins by rejecting the notion of ideological difference between anglophone and francophone Africa. He aims to root African progress in the present and not in a romanticized past.[5]

Selected publications[edit]

  • The African Imagination: Literature in Africa and the Black Diaspora, Oxford University Press (paperback 2001), ISBN 0-19-508619-8
  • The African Experience in Literature and Ideology, Indiana University Press (reprint 1990), ISBN 0-253-33124-2
  • Joint editor with Simon Gikandi of The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature, Cambridge University Press (2004), ISBN 0-521-59434-0
  • "Négritude: Literature and ideology" in The African Philosophy Reader, ISBN 0-415-96809-7

Further reading[edit]

  • F. Abiola Irele, What is Africa to me?: Africa in the Black Diaspora Imagination (Distinguished Lecture at Ohio State University, 30 October 2002)[6]
  • Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, "Literature, Culture and Thought in Africa: A conversation with Abiola Irele", in West Africa Review, Issue 7 (2005)[7]
  • Wumi Raji, Churchill College Celebrates Abiola Irele (report of 70th-birthday celebration, November 2006)[8]


  1. ^ "Kwara State University – The University for Community Development". 
  2. ^ Reviews of his essays, OUP website Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Faculty page, Harvard University Archived January 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b c Savory, E. (2009). "An interview with francis abiola irele". Wadabagei : A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diaspora. 12 (1): 109–132. 
  5. ^ Dash, J. Michael (1 January 2009). "Review of Négritude et condition africaine". Research in African Literatures. 40 (4): 200–201. JSTOR 40468180. 
  6. ^ Distinguished Lecture Series – Ohio State University Archived September 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Na'Allah, Abdul-Rasheed (1 January 2005). "Literature, Culture, and Thought in Africa: A Conversation with Abiola Irele" (7) – via www.africaknowledgeproject.org. 
  8. ^ Churchill College Celebrates Abiola Irele

External links[edit]