Heart of Arts

Why Toyin Falola Is A Phenomenon

I want to try, but I don’t have all the answers:

1. Collaboration.

Falola is a great collaborator. He excels in bringing people together to work on projects, particularly book projects.

This, without using institutional structures, he has built a virtual instruction of collaborative productions. In contrast, humanities scholars are more often individualists, working on their own, and at best, getting feedback from others.

2. He takes seriously the study of other scholars and creatives.

Falola’s work can be divided, among other possible categorizations, into those focusing on people and those focusing on other issues. Those focusing on people can be further divided into those focusing on himself and those focusing on others. Those focusing on himself are his autobiographies and hybrid texts, which focus on himself within the context of a larger body of study, such as his “From Stroke to Stone” essay and his goal in his award-winning Auto ethnography book although, from my very limited reading of the book so far I wonder to what degree it theorizes the auto ethnographic as different from actually demonstrating it.

The texts focusing on others are substantial, sole written books on such scholars as Ogbu Kalu and Farooq Kpetrogi and edited texts on others, as of Nimi Wariboko and the artist Victor Ekpuk, along with such a sole written essay collection as In Praise of Greatness. In contrast, fellow humanities scholars in African Studies do not seem to be particularly inspired by the idea of studying each other’s works, talk less the work of scholars junior to them in career advancement, as Falola has done with Farooq and Wariboko, even organizing a Wariboko conference out of which a book has emerged, I understand.

3. He is constantly generating book projects and approaching publishers with them.

Publishers need books to publish. Falola constantly generates long running book project ideas and pitches them to publishers. Hence, he edits book series from Palgrave to Cambridge and he makes sure he delivers them,  also contributing his own books, at times sole written and other times co-edited and sole edited. A lot of organizational capacity is deployed to enable this happen. Most humanities do not concern themselves with entering into such arrangements with publishers, preferring to simply do their work and approach publishers in relation to their personal work alone.

4. He works very well with teams that facilitate his work.

5. He has a stable home and stable finances and avoids disruptions in those zones.

6. He cuts out distractions to his vision of being an unelected or unappointed virtual academic institution builder, staying away from such academic responsibilities as head of department, Dean or President or VC, preferring to focus on his self-initiated efforts.

7. He is good at getting stimulation from others through asking them to give feedback on his work, to edit his work or to comment on his ideas.

8. He is constantly writing and is not afraid of not being at his best always, preferring to keep working, polishing what emerges and expanding it, up to a point of readiness which is not to be equated with absolute perfection, perfection being understood as more of a process than a destination  Hence it might not be difficult to see how some of Falola’s books could be better if the subject were approached differently and the work incubated over a longer period of time, but Falola has demonstrated his capacity at the time of writing, laying seeds for later possibilities from others or even himself, rather than trying to actualize something he might not be ready to do at that time.

9. He has resolved, he once stated, to do no other job apart from academia.

Hence, he migrated from Nigeria, whose academic system cannot sustain him,to the US, and to UTexas, a socio-economic environment that can adequately empower him. An eagle can’t fly high if it has weights on its feet. To create the conditions that will enable a Falola in any socio-economic system, certain structural configurations must be achieved.

10. Time management. He organizes his work life in terms of projects in progress, completed projects and projects to be published. The books for publication next year are already with the publishers. The publishers will love him because he is always giving them food.

11. He has worked out the optimum conditions for his creativity, avoiding situations that won’t help it.

My thoughts for now.

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