Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Eyitayo Aloh (better known to his classmates as Tayo). Tracking down Tayo was easy; I went to Traill college; he never leaves the building! Sat in the comfy confines of his second home, Tayo opened up about his research, his family, his past career, and the international student experience. Admittedly, our conversation had an air of intimacy. That said, Tayo must have noticed my keyboard, clicking away, word after word. Either way, the jig is up now. What follows is what Tayo told me in confidence, verbatim.
A: Before we begin, how are you doing anyway?
T: Begin what? Isn’t this just a conversation? You should know that I never have anything interesting to say on Thursdays; it’s too close to the end of my week. Just keep asking questions until you get the quotes you are looking for!
A: That’s a real vote of confidence; I’m sure that our readers will be thrilled. Let’s start with how you got here. You were born and raised in Nigeria and have spent most of the last decade in England… so how the heck did you end up in Peterborough?
T: That would be the power of the internet. I was searching for a professor interested in African literature when I stumbled upon Trent’s Hugh Hodges. Professor Hodges’ specific interests in Nigerian Literature and Nigerian music were a perfect fit for my potential thesis project. I emailed the man and it took him a whole 30 minutes to respond. That’s the great thing about Trent; it’s a University where professors pride themselves on taking an active interest in the academic pursuits of their students. You really get to know them, one-on-one, even at the undergraduate level.
A: Now that we know how you got here, let’s move onto what you’re doing here; what exactly is your thesis project?
T: If you want it plain and simple, it’s about how oral traditions and oral texts in Africa have found their own unique public. When I grew up in Nigeria, I listened to stories, but storytelling is dying out slowly, everybody’s moving to reading texts. Now, these reading texts seem to mediate what the public is. I don’t have anything against reading texts; as a journalist, I helped create them. Still, I think the old ways have a role to play. Perhaps the old ways will provide an alternative to solving social problems. I’m interested in expanding the scope of oral traditions.
A: Did you notice things changing as you were growing up.
T: Definitely. Rather than running down to village squares, families and communities had their own televisions, radios, cassette tapes, videos… the stories were embedded in them.
A: Tell me about your background as a journalist. How did you reconcile your love for orality with a career in print media?
T: You can’t bring back the past. I saw myself as a participant in the transition. As a literary critic for Nigeria’s Comet newspaper, I was interested in examining how African writers were appropriating the oral traditions in their writing. I found myself wary of authors who aligned themselves too close to the European tradition. Writing always originates from somewhere, and for me, I wanted to hear an author’s cultural experiences in the work.
A: So for you, the author is important. I take it that you didn’t enjoy Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author”?
T: (laughing) I had to read “Death of the Author”; it was my job as a student. I enjoyed the discourse, but in my opinion, no idea exists in limbo – the reader may make of a text what he wants, but the author is not dead – the author is always there.
A: Back to journalism and your time in the UK. How did your experiences there contribute to your transition from the newsroom to the classroom?
T: I ended up in England because a friend was starting up a magazine and he wanted me as editor. Slowly, he started taking the magazine away from its original cultural orientation which made it a different kind of journalism altogether. Throughout the 2000’s, I found that journalism in the UK was starting to rely on political patronage. I hated being told what to write; it took away my agency as a human being. By moving from the newsroom to the classroom, I am recovering my agency. It’s liberating to connect to the origins of African voice. Books have always been part and parcel of who I am which is why my transition into the program has been a smooth one. I feel at home.
A: Speaking of home, you’re married with two children: a daughter (eight) and a son (three). They’re currently still in Nigeria – is this the longest you have ever been away from your family?
T: Yes it is, but hopefully, they will be joining me in a few months – that’s the plan. My kids are at the point where they need their father.
A: What will you tell them about Canada before they arrive?
T: That the people here are very welcoming. I guess you have to be friendly with one another when the winter weather won’t let you outside. Also, houses here are way bigger than in the UK. I still don’t know what you people are doing in your huge living rooms!
A: Time to wrap it up. Anything else you want to say to the blogosphere before you go back to your workload?
T: Just that Public Texts is a unique MA. Other English programs cover literature, drama, creative writing – the basic formulas – but here, the possibilities abound. You are only limited by your imagination.
Editor’s note – Because I forgot my recording device, this conversation is actually an Alex interpretation of a Tayo original. Now that I’ve legally covered myself, my wallet feels at ease.