INSIDE LIFE Art & Culture Emeritus Professor Wole Soyinka: Celebrating The African Lion Of Literature At 86

Emeritus Professor Wole Soyinka: Celebrating The African Lion Of Literature At 86

Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, born 13 July 1934, Abeokuta, Ogun State, worldly known as Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, poet and essayist. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first sub-Saharan African to be honoured in that category.

He is the father of many featured theatre plays, movie adapted literature and translations in Nigeria and Africa at large. His play, The Lion And The Jewel has been performed on different stages worldwide.


In 1954, he attended Government College, Ibadan and subsequently University Of Ibadan and the University of Leeds in England. After studying in Nigeria and the UK, he worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London. He went on to write plays that were produced in both countries, Nigeria and London, in theatres and on radio.

He was an active voice in Nigeria’s political history and its struggle for independence from Great Britain. In 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon and put in solitary confinement for two years. He’s known to be a formidable force and voice during the military regime of Abacha who declared him dead in absentia after he eloped from the country been declared wanted, he returned to the nation after his death.

In Nigeria, Soyinka was a Professor of Comparative Literature (1975 to 1999) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ife. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, he was made professor emeritus.
While in the United States, he first taught at Cornwell University as professor for African Studies and Theatre Arts from 1988 to 1991 and then at Emory University, where in 1996 he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has served as scholar-in-residence at NYU’s Institute of African American Affairs and at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, US. He has also taught at the universities of Oxford, Harvard and Yale.Soyinka was also a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Duke University in 2008.

His body of literary works include;

PLAYS

Keffi’s Birthday Treat (1954)

The Invention (1957)

The Swamp Dwellers (1958)

A Quality of Violence (1959)[78]

The Lion and the Jewel (1959)

The Trials of Brother Jero

A Dance of the Forests (1960)

My Father’s Burden (1960)

The Strong Breed (1964)

Before the Blackout (1964)

Kongi’s Harvest (1964)

The Road (1965)

Madmen and Specialists (1970)

The Bacchae of Euripides (1973)

Camwood on the Leaves (1973)

Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973)

Death and the King’s Horseman (1975)

Opera Wonyosi (1977)

Requiem for a Futurologist (1983)

A Play of Giants (1984)

Childe Internationale (1987)[79][80]

From Zia with Love (1992)

The Detainee (radio play)

A Scourge of Hyacinths (radio play)

The Beatification of Area Boy (1996)

Document of Identity (radio play, 1999)

King Baabu (2001)

Etiki Revu Wetin

Alapata Apata (2011)

“Thus Spake Orunmila” (short piece; in Sixty-Six Books (2011)

NOVELS

The Interpreters (1964)

Season of Anomy (1972)

SHORT STORIES

A Tale of Two (1958)

Egbe’s Sworn Enemy (1960)

Madame Etienne’s Establishment (1960)

MEMOIRS

The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972)

Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981)

Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: a memoir 19466–5 (1989)

Isara: A Voyage around Essay (1990)

You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006)

POETRY COLLECTIONS

Telephone Conversation (1963) (appeared in Modern Poetry in Africa)

Idanre and other poems (1967)

A Big Airplane Crashed Into The Earth(original title Poems from Prison) (1969)

A Shuttle in the Crypt (1971)

Ogun Abibiman (1976)

Mandela’s Earth and other poems (1988)

Early Poems (1997)

Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known(2002)

ESSAYS

Towards a True Theater (1962)

Culture in Transition (1963)

Neo-Tarzanism: The Poetics of Pseudo-Transition

A Voice That Would Not Be Silenced

Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture (1988)

From Drama and the African World View(1976)

Myth, Literature, and the African World(1976)

The Blackman and the Veil (1990)

The Credo of Being and Nothingness (1991)

The Burden of Memory – The Muse of Forgiveness (1999)

A Climate of Fear (the BBC Reith Lectures 2004, audio and transcripts)

New Imperialism (2009)

Of Africa (2012)

Beyond Aesthetics: Use, Abuse, and Dissonance in African Art Traditions (2019)

MOVIES

Kongi’s Harvest

Culture in Transition

Blues for a Prodigal

TRANSLATIONS

The Forest of a Thousand Demons: A Hunter’s Saga (1968; a translation of D. O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀)

In the Forest of Olodumare (2010; a translation of D. O. Fagunwa’s Igbo Olodumare)

The Wole Soyinka Annual Lecture Series was founded in 1994 and “is dedicated to honouring one of Nigeria and Africa’s most outstanding and enduring literary icons: Professor Wole Soyinka”.It is organised by the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity), which organisation Soyinka with six other students founded in 1952 at the then University College Ibadan.

In 2011, the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre built a writers’ enclave in his honour. It is located in Adeyipo Village, Lagelu Local Government Area, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. The enclave includes a Writer-in-Residence Programme that enables writers to stay for a period of two, three or six months, engaging in serious creative writing. In 2013, he visited the Benin Moat as the representative of UNESCO in recognition of the Naija seven Wonders project.
He is currently the consultant for the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, with the Lagos State deeming him as the only person who could bring out the aims and objectives of the Festival to the people.

In 2014, the collection Crucible of the Ages: Essays in Honour of Wole Soyinka at 80, edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Ogochwuku Promise, was published by Bookcraft in Nigeria and Ayebia Clarke Publishing in the UK, with tributes and contributions from Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Margaret Busby, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ali Mazrui, Sefi Atta, and others.

In 2018, Henry Louis Gates, Jr tweeted that Nigerian filmmaker and writer, Onyeka Nwelue, visited him in Harvard and was making a documentary film on Wole Soyinka. As part of efforts to mark his 84th birthday, a collectiom of poems titled 84 Delicious Bottles of Wine was published for Wole Soyinka, edited by Onyeka Nwelue and Odega Shawa. Among the notable contributors was Adamu Usman Garko, award winning teenage essayist, poet and writer.

1973: Honorary D.Litt., University of Leeds

1973–74: Overseas Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge

1983: Elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

1983: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, United States

1986: Nobel Prize for Literature

1986: Agip Prize for Literature

1986: Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).

1990: Benson Medal from Royal Society of Literature

1993: Honorary doctorate, Harvard University

2002: Honorary fellowship, SOAS

2005: Honorary doctorate degree, Princeton University

2005: Conferred with the chieftaincy title of the Akinlatun of Egbaland by the Oba Alake of the Egba clan of Yorubaland. Soyinka became a tribal aristocrat by way of this, one vested with the right to use the Yoruba title Oloye as a pre-nominal honorific.

2009: Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement

2013: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Lifetime Achievement, United States

2014: International Humanist Award

2017: Joins the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Humanities

2017 “Special Prize” of the Europe Theatre Prize

2018, University of Ibadan renamed its arts theater to Wole Soyinka Theatre.

2018: Honorary Doctorate Degree of Letters, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).

Soyinka has been married three times and divorced twice. He has children from his three marriages. His first marriage was in 1958 to the late British writer, Barbara Dixon, whom he met at the University of Leeds in the 1950s. Barbara was the mother of his first son, Olaokun. His second marriage was in 1963 to Nigerian librarian Olaide Idowu, with whom he had three daughters, Moremi, Iyetade (deceased), Peyibomi, and a second son, Ilemakin. Soyinka married Folake Doherty in 1989.

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