by Ann White Spencer
This past summer VFH Fellow Osayimwense Osa fought on, not with fists or swords, but, predictably, with words. His battle cry? Reading and studying literature makes this a better world.
Osa, professor of English at Virginia State University (VSU), is the 2013 recipient of the VFH Fellowship Program’s summer residency for faculty from Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
When he left Nigeria for the United States in the late 1980s, Osa had already accumulated an impressive collection of academic accolades and publications on African children’s and youth literature. He was confident even then that nuanced study and teaching of certain multicultural writing can contribute to peaceful coexistence among polarized and conflicting cultures.
To that end, he founded the Journal of African Children’s & Youth Literature, and organized international exchanges on Japanese, German, African, and African American youth literature. He published literary studies illustrating the uses of children’s and youth literature in indigenous African languages with a focus on books about war, racism, crisis, and violence. And he has taught thousands of students and education majors. Most recently, Osa collaborated with other scholars in Morocco to identify texts and literature from Islamic religion and culture to include in comparative literature studies at VSU.
Osa’s VFH summer project is a revision of VSU’s world literature curriculum to make it more representative of different cultures.
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“What drives this is my desire to stimulate and develop students’ understanding and appreciation of literatures that can arguably contribute to reducing violence at home and abroad,” Osa says. “In a world decimated by violence, literature provides vicarious experience and is a positive force that promises to enliven people’s awareness of others and the forces that shape others’ lives.”
Osayimwense Osa’s lifetime of studying, writing, and teaching, and its influence, will far outlast him, as will the work of most of our more than 300 residential fellows since the program began in 1984. Of those 300-plus fellows, less than 10 percent have been from HBCUs.
Two years ago VFH Staff and Board members decided to encourage and support access to the residential fellowship program for faculty from our Virginia HBCUs because historically, while there has never been a shortage of talented scholars and writers at these institutions, there has been a shortage of applications for our fellowships.
HBCU faculty are often assigned heavy teaching loads and have broad community and professional service responsibilities at their institutions, seriously limiting their time for scholarly activities. Our summer fellowship is the first step in what we hope will grow to a full-semester or full-year fellowship designated for HBCU faculty.
This summer VFH hosted two more Virginia HBCU faculty with external funding. Paula Barnes (English), a former fellow from Hampton University, was supported by a Mellon Faculty Residency to work on her book, The Trope of the Mulatta Woman in the Cottage in African American Literature. Carol Pretlow (political science), Norfolk State University, was awarded an institutional research grant to pursue research and writing on her book analyzing presidential foreign-policy leadership by examining the perspectives of three contemporary presidencies: William Jefferson Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack H. Obama.