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Scholars mourn foremost novelist, Okpewho at 74


The late Okpewho

The late Okpewho

Reactions have continued to trail the demise of Africa’s foremost scholar of oral literature and award-winning novelist, Isidore Okpewho.

He died at the age of 74 in Binghamton, New York, on Sunday.

According to a critic and Okpewho’s former colleague at the University of Ibadan (UI) and Dean of Arts, Bowen University, Prof. Dan Izevbaye, Okpewho’s demise marks the end of a glorious era of scholarship in African oral literature.

Izevbaye said: “He was a foremost oral literature scholar coming from the Classics; he brought his background of Classics to bear on his oral literature scholarship.

“He wasn’t strictly limited to his discipline. He is a distinguished, comparative scholarship in oral literature, and he brought his own unique quality as first class Classics scholar.”

Also, a two-time Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, said: “This is terrible news. Oh, that is a pity. I thought he was recovering from his illness. He was a very good personal friend of mine. Outside of the classroom, he was an excellent tennis player; we played together.”

Prof. Isidore Diala of English Department, Imo State University, Owerri, said Okpewho’s passing away is a personal loss, saying: “Sad to hear. I was aware he was ill. He taught me; he was my HOD, my personal friend. Surely, this is a personal loss.”

Also, one of his students and professor of literature at Abia State University, Uturu, JOJ Nwachukwu-Agbaja, expressed sadness over the passing on of Okpewho, saying, he wasn’t someone to die so soon.

Nwachukwu-Agbaja, who commended Okpewho for his scholarship and creative writing, which he said, are focused on the psychology of the individual and not politics or leadership, said: “He taught me; he was my Ph.D supervisor. He was a very nice man. He was a student-centred teacher. He was kind; he was devoted to scholarship, African oral literary scholarship and was also very different.”

“In his novels, he was interested in inter- and intra-personal subjects. He was interested in the human person, the reaction of the human person. His own writing was not centred on colonialism and leadership like his contemporaries. He was always seeking to bring out the psychology of the individual. He was interested in the individual and how the individual reacted to situations around him or her.

Okpewho was born on November 9, 1941 in Agbor, Delta State. Okpewho grew up in Asaba, his maternal hometown, where he attended St. Patrick’s College, Asaba. He proceeded to the University College, Ibadan, for his university education. He graduated with a First Class Honours in Classics, and moved on to launch a glorious career: first in publishing at Longman Publishers, and then as an academic after obtaining his Ph.D from the University of Denver, U.S. He crowned his certification with a D.Litt from University of London.

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