It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Vivian Yenika-Agbaw on September 20, 2021. An avid supporter of USBBY, Vivian was a professor of children’s and adolescent literature at Penn State University and an author of African youth literature. She published extensively in the areas of post-colonial, multicultural, disabilities, reader response, and Africana studies. Her single-authored, peer-reviewed, scholarship defined set her as foundational in literary criticism. Her co-edited books, editorial roles for journals, and leadership roles in organizations like USBBY and IRSCL, set her apart as a one who not only moved the field forward but, as one who did so while supporting the scholarship of rising scholars and colleagues alike. As such her work is canonical in the field of literary criticism of African children’s literature.
I first met Vivian at the 2008 IBBY Congress in Denmark where she and her daughter Joy befriended me. Surrounded by images of Hans Christian Anderson in Copenhagen, she was beginning her scholarship on fairytales with a study of The Little Matchstick Girl. She had been, and would remain active in the field of international youth literature through leadership roles in USBBY and IRSCL and service on book award committees such as Children’s Africana Book Award and Notable Books for a Global Society. Our meeting in Copenhagen was the beginning of multiple publications on fairytales for Vivian, one of which I would co-edit, and a life-long friendship that included Ruth Lowery.
A daughter of Cameroon, Vivian remained faithful to her home in her scholarship on African children’s literature, her authorship of youth literature set in Cameroon, and in her sponsorship of a youth library in Cameroon. Like Toni Morrison, Vivian wrote the Cameroonian literature she longed to read as a child. And, like Morrison, Vivian cherished her fiction writing and held it closest to her heart. Normally a shy, humble woman, Vivian’s voice raised and she became animated when she talked about writing fiction, of language use, and of providing children like her with a representation of themselves in literature. It is these books and many, many more that Vivian used to found a youth library in Cameroon. Thus, we see that she promoted international children’s literature in every aspect of her scholarship, teaching, fiction writing, and librarianship.
Vivian leaves behind extended family which includes a husband, three children, and a newborn grandchild. Her mother, sister, brother, here and in Cameroon also mourn her loss. USBBY and the field of youth literary scholarship have lost an ally. We have also lost a beloved friend.
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Eastern Illinois University
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