Professor Ajayi-Soyinka has joint appointments in Theatre Department and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) departments. An interdisciplinary scholar, her teaching, research publications and creative works encompass theatre, performance, literary and gender studies, including the critical theories that inform them. She was honored with a Glidden Visiting Professorship at the University of Ohio, Athens (Winter 2011).
Ajayi's teaching encourages independent thinking skills in students, and make them value the process of learning as well as its end result that will serve them for life beyond the gates of KU. Her Theatre courses include "Race and the American Theatre," "African Theatre," "African Dance," "Myth and the Dramatist," and "Post-Modern Theory and Criticism."
Her research publications, examine how disciplines theorize, analyze, challenge or breakdown discourses on power, gender, race, sexuality, cultures and nationality. In addition to many book chapters, Encyclopedia entries, and articles in scholarly journals like Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Signs, and Research in African Literatures, Ajayi is the author of Yoruba Dance (1998) and co-editor of African Literature at the Millennium" (2006).
Also a creative artist, Ajayi-Soyinka's works interact and intervene with her teaching and scholarship. Among her credits are - Choreographies: Death and the King's Horseman, (Kalamazoo, 2008); Oyedipo at Kolhuni, (Greece, 2002); Performances: "Resident Alien," a short story; "Phillis Wheatley – I Too Sing Freedom," (Urbana-Champaign, 2010), and Poetry: "Give Her the Earth to Work." (2003).
In 2009-2010, Professor Ajayi became the President of African Literature Association (ALA), an international academic organization founded 1975; she was previously the Vice President. She also served on the Executive Council of other organizations including African Studies Association, and Association of African Women Scholars, and Lawrence Arts Council, KS. She is on the editorial board of several scholarly journals.
My teaching method is ‘interactive.’ I encourage lively and informed class discussions and exchanges, vigorous questioning by everybody in the classroom, so that class hours are not reduced to a couple of monologues from the professor. Lectures, discussions, video clips and class activities will supplement reading assignments. The overall structure of the class, with the lectures, weekly readings, assignments aim to sharpen your critical thinking, writing, analysis, and research skills.
Most of my courses are located in geographical, and cultural areas that greatly enrich and expand the general educational scope of my students, however quite often, these will be my students’ first in-depth exposure to these and cultures. Therefore, I seek to balance the understandable introductory exposure with the course content, profound analysis and relevant critical theory. I guide my approach to my courses with questions like: How can I bridge the cultural void between my students and course content? How do I raise difficult concepts and still be sensitive to students’ cultural reasoning and sometimes, reservations? How can I present issues so that students are not only able to contextualize the voices of, and ‘hear,’ the varying nuances of the specific cultures and texts I teach, but also conceptualize their thematic relative to universality. I look for answers in a number of devices including use of visuals, classroom activities, mid-semester teaching evaluations, and regularly update my course materials and approach with new ideas from conferences, and new publications. Basically, I develop an “archeological excavation” strategy.
I strive to nurture independent thinking skills in my students, asking them to imagine alternatives, and question the norm. I expose them to diverse opinions and analytical
concepts, and guide them through methods of interrogating evidence towards credible conclusions. My cherished goal, whether I am teaching traditional mainstream courses, or courses with new geographical constructs, is to make students value the process of learning, as well as the end result of knowing. Ultimately, my goal as a teacher is that my students’ education serves them for life beyond the immediacy of grades earned in my classroom and their awarded degree from KU.
- Women, Gender, Literature, Culture, Migration, African Literary Criticism Theatre History, Race, Post-independent / Postcolonial theory
Gender, Nationalism and Critical Theory in African Literature: Efua Sutherland. Relationship Between African Immigrants in the U.S. and African Americans. Immigration, Exile and Writing, African Women Immigrants.
- African Feminism, Women, Gender, Performance Aesthetics, Literary Studies, Migration in Africa and the Diaspora, and Critical Feminist Concepts. Performer, Choreographer, Poet, and Storyteller.
The organizing structure of my research program is the construction of and intersection of gender, nationalism, including immigrant identities in African and Diaspora literary and performing arts. My academic focus unfolds in two areas critical to my overall scholarship, and pedagogy: i) theoretical and critical analyses, and ii) practicing artist in creative writing and performance.
i) Theoretical and Critical Analyses: I analyze works produced primarily in Africa and its Diaspora, interrogating their rich nuances through relevant theoretical lenses, and explore new theoretical concepts as relevant. Through my publications, I also focus on how writers explore gender and nationalism in their works. Drawing on cultural, feminist, political and dramatic theories, I examine canonical classics by first generation (1940s-1970s) postcolonial writers carving out national identities from anti colonial struggles. However, I argue that women are sidelined from these national identity constructs even though history records women’s involvement. The uncompromising voice of African feminism in third generation writers (1980s-2000) cannot be missed, presenting more multi-dimensional women including those actively, or otherwise engaged in their destinies. On another level, I critique the one-dimensional image of African women frozen in ‘traditional’ times, encountered often in Eurocentric feminist analysis.
ii) Practicing Artist in Creative Writing and Performance. As a practicing artist, I interact/intervene imaginatively with the theories I apply adding my voice to discourses raised in postcolonial / post-independent contexts. Exploring the creative dimension of my research program discipline as a choreographer, dancer, poet and short story writer, is an invaluable complement to my research and teaching. In theatre, I realize the practical aspect of my theatre expertise mainly through choreography and performance. My work as choreographer allows me to explore on stage, my theoretical analyses of the concept of ‘total theatre,’ where dance and music are integral complements of the aesthetic, and communication channels in many African contemporary plays. The theatre space is my tableau to create and arrange dances that capture this complementary essence.
I work together with the director to realize the playwright’s vision. For each play, I find its movement language and stage arrangement to complement its verbal and conceptual analysis; even choreographing the same play, is a new work as interpretations vary with each production, location and performers.