10 Things You May Not Know About Wole Soyinka
Did you Know:
1. He is a Nobel Laureate
He was the first African to be honoured with a Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1986 when he was been awarded, he was described as one “who in a wide cultural perspective, and with poetic overtones, fashions the drama of existence.” His Nobel acceptance speech was devoted to South African freedom-fighter Nelson Mandela, and was declared a humane and characteristically outspoken criticism of apartheid and the politics of racial segregation in South Africa at the time.
2.Conscience of the Nation
Tall and thin with a shock of white hair and Socratic beard, after Gani Fawehinmi he is always referred to as the conscience of the Nation. The problems of Africa, particularly the failures of authoritarian politicians and military dictators, have concerned Soyinka throughout his career. For decades now, Mr Soyinka has been at the forefront of the pro-democracy struggle in Nigeria.
3. He is related to Afrobeat Legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Mr. Soyinka is the cousin of the late revolutionary African musician Fela Kuti. Wole’s mother, Grace, was a member of the Ransome-Kuti family, known for its contributions to Nigerian art, religion, education, medicine and politics. Aside from Fela his other cousins include activists Beko Ransome-Kuti and Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, and Health Minister Olikoye Ransome-Kuti.
4.He helped found the first confraternity in Nigeria
While pursuing a degree in English literature, Greek, and Western history at University College in Ibadan, Wole helped found the Pyrates Confraternity with six others. It was built as an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organization.
In 1965, Soyinka seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and made a national broadcast demanding the cancellation of the rigged Western Nigeria Regional Elections. He was arrested and arraigned but later freed. Two years later, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was again arrested and placed in solitary confinement for his attempts at brokering a peace between warring factions. He was released almost two years later after international attention was drawn to his imprisonment. Soyinka’s relentless activism often exposed him to great personal risk, most notable during the government of General Sani Abacha (1993–1998), which pronounced a death sentence on him ‘in absentia.’ However, during Abacha’s regime, Soyinka escaped from Nigeria via the ‘Nadeco Route’ on motorcycle.
6. He is Spiritual but not Religious
According to NaijaLog, Wole Soyinka is a very spiritual person but he is not religious. Though his father was an Anglican minister, some quarters have even described Wole as an atheist.
7. He has been married three times and divorced twice
He has been married to his third and current wife, Adefolake Soyinka, since 1989 and has three children with her (he also has children by his other wives). Adefolake is a former student of Wole’s.
The laureate has also received several honorary degrees, from such prestigious universities as Harvard (1993), Princeton (2005) and the Franklin Humanities Institute of Duke University, where he was appointed Distinguished Scholar in Residence in 2008.
9. He lost the Oxford Professor of Poetry
Prof. Wole Soyinka lost the race to be Oxford’s Professor of poetry to English poet, playwright and novelist, Simon Armitage after he was betrayed by Melvyn Bragg. What the Nobel Laureate missed out on is the second most prestigious poetry position in the UK.
10. He is not Chinua Achebe arch enemy
Contrary to widespread opinion, Wole Soyinka and the late literary icon Chinua Achebe were friends. Following Achebe’s death, He said: “For us, the loss of Chinua Achebe is, above all else, intensely personal. We have lost a brother, a colleague, a trailblazer and a doughty fighter.”