Contested Definitions: Drivers’ Seats, Kicking Tongues, and Women’s Labor in an African City

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@ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

A rusty yellow bus, fitted with a PVC pipe for expelling exhaust, conveys passengers in Lagos, as a woman looks on; paintings of Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu and chair of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers overlook the road.
Image credit: Oluwasegun Solomon Toluwani.

Tolulope Akinwole

Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2023-2024)

Ph.D. Candidate, English, UW–Madison

Contested Definitions: Drivers’ Seats, Kicking Tongues, and Women’s Labor in an African City

In a recent call for papers for a Modern Fiction Studies special issue entitled “Women Thinking in Public,” Debra Rae Cohen and Catherine Keyser call literary scholars to reconsider women as public intellectuals enacting new ways of thinking through their communal practices. Taking a cue from calls such as this, this talk considers the anxiety of definition that arises from women’s labor around public buses in Lagos, Africa’s largest commercial hub. In doing so, I bring Karen King-Aribisala’s Kicking Tongues (1998) into a conversation with popular expressions about women’s labor in Lagos in order to show how public automobility amplifies women’s labor in postcolonial African cities.

Tolulope Akinwole is a doctoral candidate in English at UW-Madison. His research interests revolve around global black literatures, African cultural studies, and critical geography. He obtained master’s degrees in Literary Studies, African Cultural Studies, and English Language from UW-Madison and the University of Lagos. In 2016, he was a Fulbright Scholar in the Department of African Cultural Studies at UW-Madison. His writings on global black literatures, African urban representations, and Afro-diasporic mobilities have appeared or are forthcoming in the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, Matatu: Journal for African Culture and Society, and the Journal of African Literature Association. He is associate editor of, an online magazine of contemporary African and African diaspora literatures, and he manages His research has been supported by the National Federation of Modern Language Teachers’ Associations, the African Studies Research Award, the Ebrahim Hussein Research Fellowship, and the Graduate School at UW-Madison. His dissertation focuses on literary representations of automobility in postcolonial Africa.

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