A profile of Nobel Laureate in Literature (1986) and Nigerian poet, Wole Soyinka.July 21, 2020
‘Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 in Nigeria. He studied at University College Ibadan and the University of Leeds in the UK, graduating in 1957 before working for the Royal Court Theatre in London. A year later he wrote The Lion and the Jewell.
In 1960 he was awarded a Rockefeller Research Fellowship and returned to Nigeria where he established an amateur acting company, the Nineteen-Sixty Masks. Wole Soyinka continued to write essays about current affairs and Nigerian politics and his novel The Interpreters was published in 1964.
The following year Soyinka was arrested after taking over a radio station at gunpoint and broadcasting a message denouncing electoral fraud in Western Nigeria. His detention sparked international protests, and the next year he was acquitted on a technicality.
In 1966 there were two military coups and Nigeria appeared to be heading for a civil war after Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu declared south-east Nigeria to be the independent Republic of Biafra. The following year Soyinka attempted to negotiate between the federal government and the Biafra separatists. This resulted in his arrest, accused of siding with the rebels.
In 1969 the civil war ended and Soyinka was released under an amnesty which followed. His experiences as a prisoner were chronicled in his book The Man Died: Prison Notes. After his release he left Nigeria for six years before returning and then in 1983 went into exile again. The following year, The Man Died: Prison Notes was banned in Nigeria.
In 1986 Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; the first African writer to win the prize. He returned to Nigeria once again and continued to write plays and essays; however, in 1994 yet again he was forced to flee Nigeria and go into exile. In 1997 he was charged in absentia with treason by the regime of General Sani Abacha. These charges were lifted following Abacha’s death in 1998.
Soyinka continues to live and work in both Nigeria and California’.
Read The Nobel Prize profile of Wole Soyinka here.
Wole Soyinka is an honorary member of Scottish PEN. He launched the Radical Book Fair in Edinburgh in 1996 and spoke with Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2000.