Tributes flow in for writer, scholar Funso Aiyejina

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Professor Emeritus at UWI Funso Aiyejina. – Photo courtesy Bocas Lit Fest

FORMER dean of Humanities and Education and Professor Emeritus at UWI Funso Aiyejina has died.

The Nigerian-born Aiyejina was also a poet, short-story writer and playwright and a former deputy festival director of the Bocas Lit Fest.

Tributes have begun to flow in from his contemporaries and those he worked with in the literary field.

Among them, former UWI principal Brian Copeland spoke of the brilliance of the man with whom he shared a lot of ideas about UWI going forward.

“I am still trying to gather my thoughts. This one hit me hard. I thought he was in good health.

“He was a strong African but loved TT, which he made his home for over 30 years. He was married to a Trinidadian, Lynda, and had two brilliant sons, of whom he was very proud,” Copeland said.

He said Aiyejina closely followed African traditions and would disappear around Carnival to check out all the stickfights and all Yoruba traditions in TT (though he was not himself Yoruba).

A tribute posted on the Bocas Lit Fest Facebook page said word of Aiyejina’s death was “devastating news for the Bocas team and for many in TT’s and the Caribbean’s literary community.”

It described him as a ‘loyal friend and steadfast partner, tireless in his contributions to our work and his many other interventions to promote literature in our region.”

In 2022, after he formally retired from the Bocas Lit Fest, it said, “it was a pleasure and an honour for us to recognise him, alongside his friend and literary colleague Merle Hodge, with the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters.”

Describing him as “strong in his opinions, meticulous in his reasoning, always warm and ready to crack a joke,” it said, “Funso was a bridge between the literary and scholarly worlds of Nigeria, where he was born and grew up, and TT, where he spent most of his life and career. It was always a pleasure to be in his company, and we will miss him terribly.”

It added, “The Bocas team send their condolences to his wife and sons, his many friends, and all who were lucky (enough) to consider him a colleague and mentor.”

Founder of the Bocas Lit Fest and Newsday columnist Marina Salandy-Brown said, “We have lost a most loyal and wonderful friend and a steadfast partner.”

She spoke of the painful process of announcing the sudden death of this founding Bocas board member.

“He attended our AGM on Thursday and the book launch that followed and was his usual upbeat self.

“He played a critical role in the development of the Slam and our publishing efforts and sealed our long-term relationship with UWI, where he was dean of the Faculty of Education and the Humanities,” she said.

“We have lost a most loyal and wonderful friend and a steadfast partner. He believed in the Bocas vision and dream and was tireless in his contributions to our work.

“He made many other interventions to promote literature in our region. Himself a prizewinning writer, he was also a scholar who was the authority on the work of Earl Lovelace, (and) he was a UWI Press editor for very many years.

“He led the Cropper Foundation residential workshops that trained so many of our contemporary writers. He also started the MFA at UWI St Augustine.

“I know everyone who knew him and worked with him will know the extent of our loss, personal and professional. My heart is with yours as we mourn his untimely passing. We are all devastated, bereft, shocked and speechless in the face of this sudden loss. Everyone loved and deeply appreciated him as a friend and mentor. He was always honest and generous”

Salandy-Brown added, “For me personally, he had a special place outside of work. My mother too was born in Nigeria, and he talked to her about their birthplace and he translated the remnants of the Hausa she still remembered. He was a link with her past. She adored him.”Aiyejina was born in 1949 in Ososo, Edo State, Nigeria, graduated from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Acadia University, and UWI.

He taught at Obafemi Awolowo University and UWI, and was a Fulbright lecturer in creative writing at Lincoln University, Missouri.

Aiyejina was a James Michener Fellow of the Caribbean Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami, and an honorary fellow of the International Writers Workshop, Hong Kong Baptist University.