Charles Raymond Larson, the respected American academic and pioneering African literature scholar has died at the age of 83. A statement by the family reveals the cause of death to be prostrate cancer.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1938, Dr Larson received a Bachelo’s and Master’s degree in English literature in 1959 and 1961 respectively. During this time, he noticed gap in the curriculum, which did not cover the works of African Americans. He subsequently joined the Peace Corps which assigned him an international duty teaching English for two years at a Nigerian missionary school for boys. In preparation for his trip, he read the novels Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Amos Tutola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard. He had planned, upon completion of service, to enroll for a Doctorate in American literature, but his time in Nigeria had altered his worldview, exposing gaps in his American education. He began to read and research works by African writers, and, upon returning to the US, obtained a degree in comparative literature and “helped found the academic study of African literature in the US.”
He joined the faculty at American University in 1970 where he pioneered the teaching of African writing to American students. He is credited with helping to “secure a place in American academia for Achebe and Wole Soyinka”.
Dr Larson spent most of his career advocating for the study of African literature, publishing several books. Some well-known titles include The Emergence of African Fiction and The Novel in the Third World. The 1997 anthology which he edited, Under African Skies: Modern African Stories, included writings by Africa’s biggest names such as Achebe, Tutuola, Ben Okri, Nuruddin Farah, Camara Laye, and Grace Ogot.
He is survived by his wife Roberta Rubenstein and their two children.
May his soul Rest In Peace.