Wole Soyinka

Portrait Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka was born in Abeokuta, western Nigeria, in 1934. Following Literature and Drama Studies in Nigeria (Ibadan) and England (Leeds) he worked at the London Royal Court Theatre as an actor and dramatic advisor, where he also wrote his first plays. In 1960 he returned to Nigeria, where he undertook further drama studies, founded two acting troupes, directed two literary journals and taught at various universities. In 1967 he was accused of supporting the Biafran independence movement and was imprisoned without trial. The poetry collections »Poems from Prison« (1969) and his first autobiographical work »The Man Died« (1972) are concerned with the period that followed. Two years and four months later, he was freed in part owing to international protests. Since then he has been in exile twice, staying in Europe, USA and Ghana, with appointments as visiting professor in a number of universities. He also served as President of the International Theatre Institute in Paris, and later was the Woodruff Professor of Humanities at Emory University, Atlanta. During this period, in 1997 he was tried in absentia for high treason.

Ever since his early plays Soyinka has borne witness to the development of modern Africa and at the same time shaped his own vision of the human condition. In doing so he has positioned himself against uncritical embrace and romanticization of pre-colonial values and instead advocates a self-assured and creative advancement of African traditions. In his often satirical and ironic work, and with a passionate and challenging flow, Soyinka champions pluralism, democracy and social and political equality for Africa. The metaphorically rich and poetic myths of Yoruba are merged with those of Europe, combining Yoruba idioms of expression with the European and fusing literature with a political history of ideas.

In 1986 Soyinka was both the first black and the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his later works – including essays and several autobiographical novels – he also focuses on global problems. In the BBC Reith Lecture series, published as »Climate of Fear« (2004) he confirms the political responsibility of citizens worldwide and condemns the major world religions as the most dangerous powers of the twenty-first century.

Soyinka has received multiple distinctions both in his native country and internationally. He has been awarded honorary doctorates by several universities – among them Leeds, Emory, Yale, Harvard, Montpellier, Toronto and Bayreuth – and is member of British, African, French and German literary associations, Commander of the Order of the Italian Republic and honorary citizen of New Orleans, Houston and Montpellier. Recently, in an article for »The Guardian«, he spoke out against the manipulation of the Nigerian elections in A pr il 2007. The author divides his time between Nigeria and the United States where he is currently a Senior Fellow of the Black Mountain Institute, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Non-Resident Fellow of the DuBois Institute, Harvard University. He has also resumed his position at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, as Emeritus Professor in Comparative Literature.

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