The Firmament of African Studies: A few words about Pius Adesanmi
This is very difficult to write. It is viscerally arduous to be writing about my friend and colleague, Pius Adesanmi, in the past tense for he left us far, far too soon. Earlier in the year he phoned to comfort me for the passing of my elderly father. In providing condolences he told me that it is common among Yoruba that if your father dies at an old age then you are liable to be the target of requests for money from others as it is important for you to share the benefit you had of the long life of your parent, adding, with a chuckle, how much in debt he was after his own elderly father had passed. Like usual, Pius attended very seriously to the matter at hand through ably drawing on his incredibly vast range of knowledge and experience while also making you smile, if not laugh, joining in with his own rich laughter that was always on the edge of his lips.
The other difficulty is that I only have 500 words to try to evoke the dozen plus years I have known such an amazing, complex, and incredibly warm person. Let me start at the beginning.
Pius made an indelible mark on me right away. In 2005-06 I was the “external” (from outside the hiring Department) member for the hiring in Carleton University’s Department of English for an African literature professor. We had an excellent pool of candidates, though it was easy to shortlist Pius given his many accomplishments in publications and teaching and his extraordinarily rich experience with various organizations and institutions in Africa, Europe, and North America. He gave one of the best academic job interviews in the many that I have experienced (or have given): an intellectually sophisticated but easy-to-follow public talk; a substantive but engaging and empathetic interviewee; in short, brilliant.
He began his job in English in 2006, and quickly joined of few us Africanist professors across campus already mobilizing to set up what became Carleton’s Institute of African Studies (IAS) in 2009. Before and since he became Director, he had been a crucial and ever-growing pillar on which it rested. He was a pillar who actively encouraged more and more supports to emerge or to firm up for IAS’s expanding foundation as he drew on his own expansive presence as a public intellectual in African Studies: organizing and supporting new degree programs, talks, conferences, tributes, Black History Month events, film festivals, literary readings, visiting scholars; forging networks with African diplomatic missions, Canadian government departments, local and international universities and civil society organizations; and energizing students, particularly those from Africa and its diasporas. He accomplished this all while writing countless searing, satirical, poetic and academic books, posts, articles, and columns, giving innumerable talks, and mentoring numerous students and young researchers at Carleton and many African universities. His sudden physical departure is shattering, but his words and actions will continue to animate IAS, Carleton and myself.