Isidore Okpewho named SUNY Distinguished Professor


Isidore Okpewho, professor of Africana Studies, has been named a distinguished professor by the SUNY Board of Trustees. Okpewho has been recognized for playing a seminal role in the development of the scholarly understanding of oral traditions in African literature.

The distinguished professor title, granted only by SUNY trustees, is the highest academic rank possible and is conferred on individuals who have achieved national or international prominence.

Okpewho joined the University’s faculty in 1991. His extensive research into oral traditions and African tales involves ethnographic investigations and the collection of narratives.
Named a Guggenheim Fellow last year, he will spend the next academic year researching African mythology in the New World. His research will help construct an identity for those who were brought to America from Africa.

“When you examine a tale from Africa, you must look at the society from which it comes and study the background of a tale’s transformation,” he said. “Away from Africa, these people have a way of fashioning their own identity and it’s reflected in the tales they tell.”

In nominating Okpewho, President Lois B. DeFleur said, “His prolific writing demonstrates great diversity ranging from African oral literature, to literary criticism and finally, to creative writing. One is struck by the overwhelmingly positive assessment of his contributions by distinguished national and international scholars.”

“It certainly makes a difference when you are recognized by your peers,” Okpewho said. “When your colleagues listen to you, you know you’re doing something worthwhile.”

Okpewho earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of London, his PhD in comparative literature from the University of Denver and a doctor of literature degree from the University of London. Prior to coming to Binghamton, he taught at SUNY Buffalo, Ibadan University in Nigeria and Harvard University.

He served as associate dean of graduate studies at Ibadan University and as chair of the Department of English there. He has also chaired the Department of Africana Studies at Binghamton.

A prolific writer, Okpewho is the author, co-author or editor of 14 books and dozens of articles. He has served on the boards of the African Studies Association and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn. He is a member of the Research Advisory Council for Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions and is a member of the American Literature Association and the American Folklore Society. Okpewho also serves on the editorial board of Oral Tradition and Research in African Literatures and he has served on numerous campus committees.

Last Updated: 9/17/13