The faculty and staff of the Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre grieve the passing of our dear colleague, mentor and friend, Professor Anani Dzidzienyo. Professor Dzidzienyo was among the first faculty appointments to the Afro-American Studies Program, which later evolved into the Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre and has been a tenured member of faculty for some thirty-four years. He was also appointed in the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies. Dzidzienyo was a memorable scholar, teacher and mentor, who nurtured generations of students at Brown, including many who themselves went on to become leading scholars in the fields of African Literature, Latin American Studies, and Afro-Brazilian Studies. Many of these now renowned academicians were students in his Afro-Brazil and the Brazilian Polity course which he was still teaching this semester.
Anani Dzidzienyo was born in Sekondi in what was then the British colony of the Gold Coast, where he grew up and went both to primary and Mfantsipim secondary school, choosing to study in the United States with a scholarship to Williams College. He graduated from Williams in 1965, then went on to the United Kingdom to study international relations at Essex University, for what he thought would be a career in the diplomatic service. He grew up in the time of the seminal African nationalist political visionary, Kwame Nkrumah and was deeply inspired by his leadership of the Ghanian independence movement.
His horizons, however, shifted from international relations and diplomacy to West African literature and politics, then further expanded to South America, with him becoming the first African scholar to work consistently on Brazil. Anani in his classic 1978 essay, “Activity and Inactivity in the Politics of Afro-Latin America,” introduced the idea of “Afro-Latin America” to the United States, a concept that brought visibility to the significant Black population in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Americas and helped to shape a field of study. Dzidzienyo was also one of the earliest scholars in the US to focus on Afro-Brazilian questions and the struggle there against anti-Black racism. His work on the Afro-Brazilian intellectual and cultural figure, Abdias Nascimento was groundbreaking and remains an invaluable resource. In the 1980’s Anani was a key participant in the Third Congress of Black Culture in the Americas. The conference, held under the banner, African Diaspora: Political Consciousness and Culture of Liberation, marked a key moment in Afro-Latin cultural and intellectual growth. Professor Dzidzienyo was recognized by his peers as a pioneer in the study of Afro-Brazilian culture when in 2019 he was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Brazilian Studies Association.
Anani’s work was lauded by generations of Brown students and parents. He loved teaching and he loved his students, past and present. It is a standard highlight each year at Commencement that alumni visit Churchill House to greet faculty who taught, advised or nurtured them. However, and consistently, by far the greatest number came to meet Professor Dzidzienyo in order to recall and share joyous memories of their times with him. He was our friend, confidante, mentor and griot. As Anani Dzidzienyo would often say to us, quoting a famous Ghanian proverb on the death of important personalities, “A great tree in the forest has fallen.” Our great forest tree has fallen. We will not forget him. Our heartfelt condolences are extended to Rose-Ann and all the family.
Chair, with The Faculty and Staff, Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre