Professor Wole Soyinka, Nigerian playwright, poet and novelist, became the first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Beyond his successful literary career, Soyinka is well known for his political activism.
Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka (born 13 July 1934) is a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, where he was recognised as a man “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”, and became the first African in Africa and in Diaspora to be so honoured.
In 1994, he was designated UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication.
Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta, specifically, a Remo family from Isara-Remo on July 13, 1934. His father was Christian Clergy, Canon SA Soyinka (aka “Teacher pupa” (light skinned teacher)). He received a primary school education in Abeokuta and attended secondary school at Government College, Ibadan. He then studied at the University College, Ibadan (1952–1954) and the University of Leeds (1954–1957) from which he received a First class honours degree in English Literature. He worked as a play reader at the Royal Court Theatre in London before returning to Nigeria to study African drama. He taught in the Universities of Lagos, Ibadan, and Ife (now [[Obafemi Awolowo University[[, Ile-Ife). He became a Professor of Comparative Literature at the then University of Ife in 1975.
Soyinka has played an active role in Nigeria’s political history. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War he was arrested by the Federal Government of General Yakubu Gowon and put in solitary confinement for his attempts at brokering a peace between the warring Nigerian and Biafran parties. While in prison he wrote poetry on tissue paper which was published in a collection titled Poems from Prison. He was released 22 months later after international attention was drawn to his unwarranted imprisonment. His experiences in prison are recounted in his book The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka (1972).
He has been an implacable, consistent and outspoken critic of many Nigerian military dictators, and of political tyrannies worldwide, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. During Abacha’s regime, Soyinka escaped from Nigeria via the “Nadeco Route” on motorcycle. While abroad, he visited parliaments and conferred with world leaders to impose a regime of sanctions against the brutal Abacha regime. These actions and his setting up of the Radio Kudirat helped immensely in securing Nigeria’s return to civilian democratic governance.
Living abroad, mainly in the United States, he was a professor first at Cornell University and then subsequently taught at Emory University in Atlanta, where he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts in 1996.
When civilian rule returned in 1999, Soyinka returned to a hero’s welcome back in Lagos, Nigeria. He accepted an Emeritus Professorship at Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) on the condition that the university bar all former military officers from the position of chancellor.
Soyinka is currently the Elias Ghanem Professor of Creative Writing at the English department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the President’s Marymount Institute Professor in Residence at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, US.
Nobel Prize laureate, In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, as one “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence” becoming the first African laureate. n 1986, he received the Agip Prize for Literature.
In 1988, his new collection of poems Mandela’s Earth, and Other Poems was published, while in Nigeria another collection of essays entitled Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture appeared. In the same year, Soyinka accepted the position of professor of African studies and theatre at Cornell University.
In 1990, the second portion of his memoir called Isara: A Voyage Around Essay appeared. In July 1991 the BBC African Service transmits his radio play A Scourge of Hyacinths, and the next year (in June 1992) in Siena (Italy), his play From Zia with Love has its premiere. Both works are very bitter political parodies, based on events which took place in Nigeria in the 1980s. In 1993 Soyinka was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Harvard University.
The next year appears another part of his autobiography Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years (A Memoir: 1946-1965). The following year his play The Beatification of Area Boy was published. On 21 October 1994 Soyinka was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication. In November 1994 Soyinka fled from Nigeria through the border with Benin and then to the United States. In 1996 his book The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis was first published.
He has received various awards both in Nigeria and internationally for his works
The Swamp Dwellers; The Lion and the Jewel; The Trials of Brother Jero; A Dance of the Forests; The Strong Breed; Before the Blackout; Kongi’s Harvest The Road; The Bacchae of Euripides; Madmen and Specialists; Camwood on the Leaves; Jero’s Metamorphosis;
Death and the King’s Horseman; Opera Wonyosi; Requiem for a Futurologist;
A Play of Giants; A Scourge of Hyacinths (radio play);The Beatification of Area Boy;
King Baabu; Etiki Revu Wetin; Sixty Six (short piece)
Season of Anomie
The Man Died: Prison Notes
Aké: The Years of Childhood
Isara: A Voyage around Essay
Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: a memoir 1946-65
You Must Set Forth at Dawn
A Big Airplane Crashed Into The Earth (original title Poems from Prison)
Idanre and other poems; Mandela’s Earth and other poems; Ogun Abibiman
Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known; Abiku; The Ballad of the Landlord;
After the Deluge; Prisonnettes; Telephone Conversation
Neo-Tarzanism: The Poetics of Pseudo-Transition
Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture
Myth, Literature and the African World
From Drama and the African World View
The Burden of Memory – The Muse of Forgiveness
The Credo of Being and Nothingness
Culture in Transition
Blues for a Prodigal