Wole Soyinka was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, "who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence."
Africa has produced some of the world's finest writers, who have had a significant impact on the world thorough their works. One of these writers is a Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka.
Writers like Wole Soyinka deserve to be celebrated for the work they have done, and the profound legacies they have left behind. Wole Soyinka's works raised pertinent issues that were relevant to Africa, and issues that the African could relate. Such greatness attracted the world's attention, and has made him one of the most brilliant and prolific writers to grace this planet.
The Nigerian playwright, author, poet and political activist has written dozens of plays and written numerous books of fiction, memoirs and poetry. Often outspoken, he was put in solitary confinement by the Nigerian government during the 1960s Biafra war.
Because of his amazing work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, becoming the first African to receive such a prestigious award. Part of the press release in 1986 from Sweden reads as follows, "This year's Nobel Prize in literature goes to an African writer, Wole Soyinka from Nigeria. Now in his early fifties, he has a large and richly varied literary production behind him and is in his prime as an author. His background, upbringing and education have given him unusual conditions for a literary career. He has his roots in the Yoruba people's myths, rites and cultural patterns, which in their turn have historical links to the Mediterranean region. Through his education in his native land and in Europe he has also acquired deep familiarity with western culture. His collection of essays Myth, Literature and the African World make for clarifying and enriching reading."
It further goes on to read, "The collection of poems A Shuttle in the Crypt shows real moral stature. The poems were written during the writer's two years in prison, to which he was sent because of his attitude in his country's civil war. They are poems about mental survival, human contact, anger and forgiveness. The same experiences lie behind his prose work The Man Died: Prison Notes, which in itself is a literary work of the first rank.
Linguistically too Soyinka stands out as excellent. He possesses a prolific store of words and expressions which he exploits to the full in witty dialogue, in satire and grotesquery, in quiet poetry and essays of sparkling vitality. Wole Soyinka's writing is full of life and urgency. For all its complexity it is at the same time energetically coherent."
This just explains how important his work was. He fashioned the existence of drama. Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he took his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama.
At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, "The 1960 Masks" and in 1964, the "Orisun Theatre Company", in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
As dramatist, Soyinka has been influenced by, among others, the Irish writer, J.M. Synge, but links up with the traditional popular African theatre with its combination of dance, music, and action. He bases his writing on the mythology of his own tribe-the Yoruba-with Ogun, the god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during his time in London, The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel (a light comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in 1963.
Later, satirical comedies are The Trial of Brother Jero (performed in 1960, publ. 1963) with its sequel, Jero's Metamorphosis (performed 1974, publ. 1973), A Dance of the Forests (performed 1960, publ. 1963), Kongi's Harvest (performed 1965, publ. 1967) and Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970, publ. 1971). Among Soyinka's serious philosophic plays are (apart from "The Swamp Dwellers") The Strong Breed (performed 1966, publ. 1963), The Road ( 1965) and Death and the King's Horseman (performed 1976, publ. 1975). In The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), he has rewritten the Bacchae for the African stage and in Opera Wonyosi (performed 1977, publ. 1981), bases himself on John Gay's Beggar's Opera and Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. Soyinka's latest dramatic works are A Play of Giants (1984) and Requiem for a Futurologist (1985).
Soyinka has written two novels, The Interpreters (1965), narratively, a complicated work which has been compared to Joyce's and Faulkner's, in which six Nigerian intellectuals discuss and interpret their African experiences, and Season of Anomy (1973) which is based on the writer's thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba. Purely autobiographical are The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972) and the account of his childhood, Aké ( 1981), in which the parents' warmth and interest in their son are prominent. Literary essays are collected in, among others, Myth, Literature and the African World (1975).
Soyinka's poems, which show a close connection to his plays, are collected in Idanre, and Other Poems (1967), Poems from Prison (1969), A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972) the long poem Ogun Abibiman (1976) and Mandela's Earth and Other Poems (1988).
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