Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, poet, and essayist who has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first African to be honored in that category.
The life of Soyinka's is one of the rare, riveting biographies of our time. His life course has brought him from death's door as a political prisoner in solitary confinement to the hallowed halls of Harvard, Yale, and Leeds.
Soyinka seems fated to bridge elements in our world which are poles apart. His vision is described variously as, "inspirational, transcendent," and "demanding but rewarding." As a playwright, poet, and novelist Soyinka's vision comes to us through a stunning corpus.
During the six years spent at the University of Leeds in England earning his doctorate, 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.
During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969.
Soyinka's passion for the written word is nowhere more poignantly revealed than by his actions during his political imprisonment. He was denied reading and writing materials, but he manufactured his own ink and began to keep a prison diary, written on toilet paper, cigarette packages and in between the lines of the few books he secretly obtained.
Each poem or fragment from the journal he managed to smuggle to the outside world became a literary event and a reassurance to his supporters that Soyinka still lived.
Soyinka, who has held positions at Yale, Cornell, Cambridge, and Harvard, is acknowledged as one of the great dramatic imaginations of the 20th Century.
Many critics consider Soyinka Africa's finest writer. His unique style blends traditional Yoruban Folk Drama with European dramatic form. His corpus itself is one of the premier chronicles of Africa's political turmoil and its struggle to reconcile tradition with modernization. Soyinka warns against excesses in either African impulse.
In Dance of the Forests he warns against living in nostalgia for Africa's past, and followed that work with The Lion and the Jewel in which he lampoons Africa's indiscriminate embrace of Western modernization.
His wide-ranging wit takes in all sections of a corrupt society - the brutal masses, aimless intellectuals, the affected and hypocritical university dons, the vulgar, corrupt businessmen, the mediocre civil servants, the illiterate politicians, and the incompetent journalists.
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