(IR)REVERENCE, a multimedia conference that combined literature and film with medicine and social science, convened on the campuses of Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore Colleges this month. This celebration of African culture, which ran Oct. 6-9, recognized the 50th Anniversary of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s novel, Arrow of God. In that book, Achebe, who also authored Things Fall Apart, explores the complexity of storytelling and colonial encounters along with the significance of culture, myth, and memory. Through a speaker series, film screenings, and critical conversations, the Tri-College community was challenged to consider irreverence as “a technique for living, a way to confront power, and method of telling stories.”
The conference opened with “Achebe’s Literary Compass: Arrow of God and the Question of Tragedy,” a talk by Ato Quayson, professor of English and director of the Center for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto. A panel discussion on “Achebe’s Legacy in African Literature” featured writers Niq Mhlongo and Chika Unigwe along with Tsitsi Jaji, an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.
The speaker series continued with a presentation by Kenyan author and journalist Binyavanga Wainaina, the 2002 recipient of the Caine Prize for African Writing and one of TIME magazine’s 2014 “100 Most Influential People in the World.” His keynote address, “I am an Imaginer, riding Africa’s glorious terrible hurricane,” was followed by a panel discussion on “Medical Science and Practice in Africa.” which featured Professor of History and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Julie Livingston of Rutgers University, public health physician Ike Anya, and Haverford Professor of Molecular Microbiology Iruka N. Okeke.
(IR)REVERENCE incorporated African film into the lineup with screenings held in Haverford’s Humanities Center. Among the films shown was the first ever pidgin musical, Coz Ov Moni, whose screening was followed by a conversation and dinner with the filmmakers, Wanlov the Kubolor and M3NSA. The exploration of an expansive array of topics continued throughout the week with events on the Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore campuses, including additional film screenings, presentations on “pedagogical encounters,” and writing workshops for faculty and students.
(IR)REVERENCE was sponsored by 15 Tri-College departments and offices, including Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, and the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center.
—Shannon Smith ’15