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Alvan A. Ikoku



Pigott Hall (Main Quad)
Room 105

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By appointment

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Alvan A. Ikoku

Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and of Medicine

Alvan Ikoku is an assistant professor of comparative literature and of medicine at Stanford University. He is also affiliated with Stanford's centers for african studies and comparative studies in race and ethnicity, as well as the centers for biomedical ethics and global health. Prior to joining the faculty in 2014, he was an Andrew W Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at the humanities center

Prof Ikoku earned his MD at Harvard Medical School and his PhD in English and Comparative literature at Columbia University. He has since worked at the intersection of literature and medicine, specializing in the study of African and African diasporic literatures, twentieth-century fiction, narrative ethics, and histories of tropical medicine and global health. 

He is primarily concerned with literary, medical, and public health discourses on Africa and its diasporas. His research situates these discourses within post-nineteenth-century movements in world literature and world health. And currently, as part of a book project, he studies the place of the novel in the emergence of global health as a modern medical specialty. 

Prof Ikoku has written for the World Health Organization, Small Axe, Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, and Virtual Mentor, the ethics journal of the American Medical Association. He has also received president's teaching awards at Columbia and Harvard Universities. And his research has been funded by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, Columbia's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, the Marjorie Hope Nicolson Fellowship, and the Rhodes Trust. 

See also




COMPLIT 145B Africa in Atlantic Writing (AFRICAAM 148, AFRICAST 145B, COMPLIT 345B, CSRE 145B, FRENCH 145B, FRENCH 345B)

This course explores the central place Africa holds in prose writing emerging during periods of globalization across the Atlantic, including the middle passage, colonialism, black internationalism, decolonization, immigration and diasporic return. We will begin with Equiano's Interesting Narrative (1789), a touchstone for the Atlantic prose tradition, and study how writers crossing the Atlantic have continued to depict Africa in later centuries: to dramatize scenes of departure and arrival in stories of new citizenship, to evoke histories of racial unity and examine social fragmentation, to imagine new national communities or question their norms and borders. Our readings will be selected from English, French, Portuguese and Spanish-language traditions. And we will pay close attention to genres of prose fiction (Adichie, Condé, Olinto), prose poetry (Césaire, Neto, Walcott), theoretical reflection (Fanon, Glissant), reportage (Gide, Gourevitch), ethnography (Leiris, Ouologuem) and autobiography (Barack Obama).

COMPLIT 229 Literature and Global Health (AFRICAAM 229, AFRICAST 229, CSRE 129B, FRENCH 229, HUMBIO 175L, MED 234)

This course examines the ways writers in literature and medicine have used the narrative form to explore the ethics of care in what has been called the developing world. We will begin with an introduction to global health ethics as a field rooted in philosophy and policy that address questions raised by practice in resource-constrained communities abroad. We will then spend the quarter understanding the way literature may deepen and even alter those questions. For instance: how have writers used scenes of practice in Africa, the Caribbean or South Asia to think through ideas of mercy, charity, beneficence and justice? How differently do they imagine such scenes when examining issues of autonomy, paternalism and language? To what extent, then, do novels and memoirs serve as sites of ethical inquiry? And how has literary study revealed the complexities of narrating care for underserved communities, and therefore presented close reading as a mode of ethics for global health? Readings will include prose fiction by Albert Camus, Joseph Conrad, Amitav Ghosh and Susan Sontag as well as physician memoirs featuring Frantz Fanon, Albert Schweitzer, Abraham Verghese and Paul Farmer.

COMPLIT 223 Literature and Human Experimentation (AFRICAAM 223, CSRE 123B, HUMBIO 175H, MED 220)

This course introduces students to the ways literature has been used to think through the ethics of human subjects research and experimental medicine. We will focus primarily on readings that imaginatively revisit experiments conducted on vulnerable populations: namely groups placed at risk by their classification according to perceived human and cultural differences. We will begin with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), and continue our study via later works of fiction, drama and literary journalism, including Toni Morrison's Beloved, David Feldshuh's Miss Evers Boys, Hannah Arendt's Eichmann and Vivien Spitz's Doctors from Hell, Rebecca Skloot's Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Each literary reading will be paired with medical, philosophical and policy writings of the period; and our ultimate goal will be to understand modes of ethics deliberation that are possible via creative uses of the imagination, and literature's place in a history of ethical thinking about humane research and care.