Focus on Sabbatical: Aimable Twagilimana

Aimable Twagilimana, professor of English, had already secured a fall 2008 sabbatical to continue his research in contemporary African Aimable   Twagilimanaliterature. Then he received a one-year Fulbright Scholar grant to teach and conduct research at Cheikh Anta Diop University (formerly the University of Dakar) in Senegal.

Twagilimana earned high praise from his colleagues at Cheikh Anta Diop University’s English Department. “He supervised to completion 17 M.A. dissertations,” wrote Ousmane Sene, professor in the department and director of the West African Research Center. “This is the first time one instructor singlehandedly and within eight months managed to supervise such a staggering number of student dissertations.”

“What is amazing,” said Twagilimana, “is that between 20 and 25 full-time faculty members are serving about 7,000 students in the English Department.” Many students typically wait at least two years to find a thesis supervisor.

In addition to his work with students, Twagilimana proceeded with research on more than two fronts, advancing his progress on two forthcoming books. The first is a reference book that follows Twagilimana’s Historical Dictionary of Rwanda (Scarecrow Press, 2007). The new book’s working title is International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR); it focuses on the background to the tragic 1994 conflict in Rwanda and the work of the ICTR.

The ICTR was established by the United Nations for “the prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda”—in other words, the trial of those who are accused of crimes against humanity during the genocide that took place in Rwanda from April to July 1994.

Thanks to a Provost’s Incentive Grant in 2008, Twagilimana, a native of Rwanda who came to the United States in 1992 on a student Fulbright scholarship, observed the ICTR proceedings for two weeks in May 2008. “I was amazed,” he said, “to hear how one story, one event, can be spun in so many different ways. Personally, I was shocked to hear voices, some of which I recognized, say that no genocide had taken place in 1994.”

Twagilimana’s second research interest is contemporary African literature, focusing on fiction published since the 1980s. He is interested in the representation and interpretation of devastating events in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, and Burundi. The working title of his second book in progress is Contemporary African Literature and the Writing of Disaster.

Does the ICTR reference book take away from Twagilimana’s study of African literature, American/African American literature, and world literature, domains in which he regularly teaches? “My work on Rwanda and on genocide and ethnic studies does not take away from the study of literature,” said Twagilimana. “The English major is the most misunderstood college major. Studying English is not just about reading stories. It is also about the situations that inspire those stories.”

Warming to his topic, Twagilimana said, “For example, The Great Gatsby is not just a story about a man who wants to turn the clock five years backwards so he can start over his relationship with a woman and who dies at the end. It’s about the American dream, World War I, the Roaring ’20s, prohibition, jazz, and American literary modernism, among other elements. A judicious interpretation of literature requires—demands—that the reader be conversant with other domains of knowledge such as history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and linguistics, to name a few.”

In the early weeks of his sabbatical, Twagilimana finalized revisions on three chapters: “Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and the Labyrinth”; “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Alienation”; and “Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and the American Dream.” Each has since been published in three different volumes, respectively Bloom’s Literary Themes: The Labyrinth (New York: Blooms Literary Criticism, 2009); Bloom’s Literary Themes: Alienation (New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2009); and Bloom’s Literary Themes: The American Dream (New York: Blooms Literary Criticism, 2009). All three are edited and introduced by Harold Bloom, with Blake Hobby serving as volume editor.

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