Remembering Professor Anani Dzidzienyo of Africana Studies and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies

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.

Brian Meeks

Chair, with The Faculty and Staff, Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre

6 Comments

  1. He was brilliant and kind.
    I am so glad I had the opportunity to know him.
    He will be greatly missed.

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  2. I am Brazilian, in the last ten years we exchanged intense correspondence, especially because I am from the south of Brazil, the most Europeanized part of the Country, which aroused a strong curiosity in him for the position of the black community from where two Governors and the State Capital Mayor they were elected. My State is Rio Grande do Sul.
    We called ourselves “Onua”, brother. We had a strong connection via his brother who was Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil, Mr. Vishnu Wasiamal.
    My books and my website (www.dacostaex.org) were, according to him, an exquisite source of his classes. I was at Brown once at his invitation to teach his students.
    Now loses the African Diasporic Universe, loses the universal culture, I lose a great friend.
    Rest in peace, Onua Anani.
    José Luiz Pereira da Costa

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  3. I am heartbroken to hear Prof. Dzidzienyo’s passing. His brilliance and warmth have made an indelible mark on my life and my scholarship. This is such a tremendous loss and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him.

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  4. Anani is my favorite professor of all time despite also being one of the toughest. He had a grace and humanity that was infectious even for often disgruntled 20-somethings. While I only took one course with him, we maintained a relationship throughout my college days. I will always remember his kindness and the excitement he displayed whenever he was recommending yet another book to read. RIP Dear Anani! ❤️❤️

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  5. Anani was my advisor and friend.. Whenever I returned to Brown, he was the first person I sought out. We stayed in loose touch all these years. He may be gone, but his laugh, his warmth, and his words will remain with me and so many others forever. “When the coup comes to Ghana…”

    Jeff Young ’75

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  6. He was my professor, mentor and friend. He shaped my life-long interest in Afro-Latin American studies.
    Obrigado,
    Maria Small, MD
    Port and Brazilian studies, ‘88

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