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Everything You Need To Know About Professor Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka, Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, is a Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, becoming the first Sub-Saharan African to do so. Soyinka has been a vocal critic of successive Nigerian (and African) governments, particularly the country’s military dictators, as well as other political tyrants such as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe regime. During the Biafra Civil War, he was imprisoned for 22 months by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Early Life and Education

On July 13, 1934, in the city of Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, Professor Wole Soyinka was born to Mr Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, an Anglican minister and the headmaster of St. Peters School in Abeokuta, and Mrs Grace Eniola Soyinka (née Jenkins-Harrison), whom he dubbed a “Wild Christian.” She was a businesswoman as well as a community activist. Soyinka was the second of his parents’ seven children. Atinuke “Tinu” Aina Soyinka, Femi Soyinka, Yeside Soyinka, Omofolabo “Folabo” Ajayi-Soyinka, and Kayode Soyinka were his siblings. Folashade Soyinka, his younger sister, died on her first birthday.

Soyinka enrolled at Abeokuta Grammar School after graduating from St. Peter’s Primary School in 1940, where he won numerous literary composition awards. In 1946, he was accepted by Government College Ibadan, one of Nigeria’s most prestigious secondary schools at the time. He began his studies at University College Ibadan (1952-1954), a university-affiliated school where he studied English literature, Greek, and Western history. Molly Mahood, a British literary expert, was one of his lecturers.

In July 1954, Soyinka began work on “Keffi’s Birthday Treat,” a short radio drama for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, which was broadcast in 1954. Soyinka and six other people founded The Pyrates Confraternity, Nigeria’s first fraternity, as an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organization.

Later, in 1954, Soyinka moved to England to study English literature at the University of Leeds (1954-1957), where he was mentored by Wilson Knight. He met several talented young British writers. Before defending his B.A., Soyinka began writing and editing for The Eagle, a parody magazine. He wrote an academic life section in which he frequently criticized his university friends.

Career

Soyinka continued his studies for an MA while still living in Leeds after receiving an upper second-class diploma. He aspired to write new plays that blended Yorùbá’s indigenous heritage with European theatrical traditions. After his debut, The Swamp Dwellers, he went on to write The Lion and the Jewel, a comedy that drew the attention of several actors from London’s Royal Court Theatre. After receiving encouragement, Soyinka moved to London and began working as a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre. Both of his plays were performed at the same time in Ibadan. They discussed Nigeria’s uneasy coexistence of tradition and modernization.

The Invention, his first play to be performed at the Royal Court Theatre, premiered in 1957. Poems such as “The Immigrant” and “My Next Door Neighbor,” which appeared in the Nigerian magazine Black Orpheus at the time, were his only published works. Ulli Beier, a professor at the University of Ibadan since 1950, established this in 1957.

Soyinka criticized government corruption and the cult of personality in African dictatorships in his political remarks at the time. Kongi’s Harvest was revived and presented in April 1966 at the World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal. The Road received the Grand Prix. His play The Trials of Brother Jero was staged at the Hampstead Theatre Club in London in June 1965, and The Lion and the Jewel was staged at the Royal Court Theatre in December 1966.

Soyinka received the European Theatre Prize in the “Special Prize” category in December 2017, which is given to someone who has “contributed to the realization of cultural events that promote understanding and the exchange of knowledge between people.”

Literary Career

Following the end of the civil war in October 1969, an amnesty was declared, and Soyinka and other political prisoners were released. For the first few months after his release, Soyinka sought solitude at a friend’s property in southern France. In his 1969 book The Bacchae of Euripides, he revised the Pentheus story. Poems from Prison, a collection of his poetry, was published in London shortly after. At the end of the year, he returned to his position as Chair of Drama at Ibadan University.

In 1970, he wrote the play Kongi’s Harvest and adapted it into a film of the same name. In June 1970, he finished another piece titled “Madmen and Specialists.” A Shuttle in the Crypt, his collection of poems, was published in 1971. Ibadan hosted the production of Madmen and Specialists that year. Soyinka traveled to Paris to play Patrice Lumumba, the murdered first prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, in the production of his play Murderous Angels. From 1971 to the present, he has also published other literary works.

From 1975 to 1984, Soyinka became more politically involved. His administrative duties at the University of Ife included supervising traffic safety. He accused Shehu Shagari’s legitimately elected administration of corruption. Before being succeeded by army general Muhammadu Buhari, Soyinka frequently disagreed with the military. “The Man Died”: Prison Notes, published in 1972. In 1985, Rex Collings released his play Requiem for a Futurologist in London.

Civil War and Imprisonment

Soyinka’s political activism grew after he was appointed Chair of Drama at the University of Ibadan. In an effort to avert Nigerian civil war following the military coup of January 1966, he met with the military governor, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in the southeast town of Enugu (August 1967). As a result, he was forced to go into hiding. He was imprisoned for 22 months during the Nigerian civil war between the Federal Government and the Biafrans. Despite being denied access to supplies such as books, pens, and paper, he continued to write a substantial body of poetry and notes critical of the Nigerian government while imprisoned.

Despite his imprisonment, his play, The Lion and the Jewel, was performed in Accra, Ghana, in September 1967. In November of that year, The Trials of Brother Jero and The Strong Breed were performed at New York City’s Greenwich Mews Theatre. Soyinka’s visit to the Yoruba deity Ogun’s temple inspired Idanre and Other Poems, a book of poems that he also published. He considers Ogun to be a “fellow” deity, a kindred spirit, and a protector.

Kongi’s Harvest was first performed in New York by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1968. Soyinka was still incarcerated when he translated D. O. Fagunwa’s fanciful book, A Hunter’s Saga: The Forest of a Thousand Demons, into Yoruba.

Personal Life

Soyinka has been married three times and divorced twice. He has eight children from his three marriages, plus two more daughters. In 1958, he married the late British author Barbara Dixon, whom he met at the University of Leeds in the 1950s. Barbara was the mother of his first child, Olaokun. Then there was Morenike, his daughter. His second marriage, in 1963, resulted in two sons, Ilemakin and Moremi, as well as the deceased Iyetade and Peyibomi, a Nigerian librarian. Amani is Soyinka’s youngest child. In 1989, he married Folake Doherty. Tunlewa, Bojode, and Eniara are their three sons.

He disclosed his struggle with prostate cancer in 2014.

Relationship With The Ransome-Kuti Family

His mother was a prominent member of the Ransome-Kuti family. She was Rev. Canon J. J. Ransome-Kuti’s only granddaughter, as the only daughter of his first daughter, Anne Lape Iyabode Ransome-Kuti, and thus a niece of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Olusegun Azariah Ransome-Kuti, and Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Wole Soyinka’s first cousins include Fela Kuti, human rights advocate Beko Ransome-Kuti, politician Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, and activist Yemisi Ransome-Kuti. His second cousins are Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, and Yeni Kuti. His younger brother, Femi Soyinka, went on to become a doctor and a university professor.

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Publications

Plays

  • Keffi’s Birthday Treat (1954)
  • The Invention (1957)
  • The Swamp Dwellers (1958)
  • A Quality of Violence (1959)
  • The Lion and the Jewel (1959)
  • The Trials of Brother Jero (1960)
  • A Dance of the Forests (1960)
  • My Father’s Burden (1960)
  • The Strong Breed (1964)
  • Before the Blackout (1964)
  • Kongi’s Harvest (1964)
  • The Road (1965)
  • Madmen and Specialists (1970)
  • The Bacchae of Euripides (1973)
  • Camwood on the Leaves (1973)
  • Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973)
  • Death and the King’s Horseman (1975)
  • Opera Wonyosi (1977)
  • Requiem for a Futurologist (1983)
  • A Play of Giants (1984)
  • Childe Internationale (1987)
  • From Zia with Love (1992)
  • The Detainee (radio play)
  • A Scourge of Hyacinths (radio play)
  • The Beatification of Area Boy (1996)
  • Document of Identity (radio play, 1999)
  • King Baabu (2001)
  • Etiki Revu Wetin
  • Alapata Apata (2011)
  • “Thus Spake Orunmila” (short piece; in Sixty-Six Books (2011)

Novels

  • The Interpreters (1965)
  • Season of Anomy (1972)
  • Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (Bookcraft, Nigeria; Bloomsbury, UK; Pantheon, US, 2021)

Short stories

  • A Tale of Two (1958)
  • Egbe’s Sworn Enemy (1960)
  • Madame Etienne’s Establishment (1960)

Memoirs

  • The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972)
  • Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981)
  • Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: a memoir 1945–1965 (1989)
  • Ìsarà: A Voyage around Essay (1989)
  • You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006)

Poetry collections

  • Telephone Conversation (1963) (appeared in Modern Poetry in Africa)
  • Idanre and other poems (1967)
  • A Big Airplane Crashed into the Earth (original title Poems from Prison) (1969).
  • A Shuttle in the Crypt (1971)
  • Ogun Abibiman (1976)
  • Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988)
  • Early Poems (1997)
  • Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known (2002)

Essays

  • “Towards a True Theatre” (1962)
  • Culture in Transition (1963)
  • Neo-Tarzanism: The Poetics of Pseudo-Transition
  • A Voice That Would Not Be Silenced
  • Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture (1988)
  • From Drama and the African World View (1976)
  • Myth, Literature, and the African World (1976)[128]
  • The Blackman and the Veil (1990)[129]
  • The Credo of Being and Nothingness (1991)
  • The Burden of Memory – The Muse of Forgiveness (1999)
  • A Climate of Fear (the BBC Reith Lectures 2004, audio and transcripts)
  • New Imperialism (2009)
  • Of Africa (2012)[131]
  • Beyond Aesthetics: Use, Abuse, and Dissonance in African Art Traditions (2019)

Filmography

  • Kongi’s Harvest
  • Culture in Transition
  • Blues for a Prodigal

Translations

  • The Forest of a Thousand Demons: A Hunter’s Saga (1968; a translation of D. O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀)
  • In the Forest of Olodumare (2010; a translation of D. O. Fagunwa’s Igbo Olodumare)

Honours

The Wole Soyinka Annual Lecture Series was established in 1994 to honour Professor Wole Soyinka, one of Nigeria and Africa’s most notable and enduring literary heroes. The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity), which Soyinka and six other students created in 1952 at the then University College Ibadan, is in charge of organising it.

In his honour, a writers’ enclave was constructed in 2011 by the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre. It may be found in Nigeria’s Ibadan, Oyo State’s Adeyipo Village, Lagelu Local Government Area. The enclave has a Writer-in-Residence Programme that allows authors to stay for two, three, or six months while working on their creative writing professionally. He paid a visit to the Benin Moat in 2013 while serving as a UNESCO official in honour of Nigeria’s Seven Wonders initiative. He is currently serving as a consultant for the Lagos Black Heritage Festival after Lagos State determined that he was the only one capable of explaining to the public the goals and objectives of the festival. In 2020, he was named a patron of Humanists UK.

Some other honours upon which the great professor has been bestowed are the following:

  • 1973: Honorary D.Litt., University of Leeds
  • 1973–74: Overseas Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge
  • 1983: Elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • 1983: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, United States
  • 1986: Nobel Prize for Literature
  • 1986: Agip Prize for Literature
  • 1986: Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
  • 1990: Benson Medal from the Royal Society of Literature
  • 1993: Honorary doctorate, Harvard University
  • 2002: Honorary fellowship, SOAS
  • 2005: Honorary doctorate degree, Princeton University
  • 2005: Enstooled as the Akinlatun of Egbaland, a Nigerian chief, by the Oba Alake of the Egba clan of Yorubaland. Soyinka became a tribal aristocrat by way of this, one vested with the right to use the Yoruba title Oloye as a pre-nominal honorific.
  • 2009: Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement is presented by Awards Council member Archbishop Desmond Tutu at an awards ceremony at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • 2013: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Lifetime Achievement, United States
  • 2014: International Humanist Award
  • 2017: Joins the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Humanities.
  • 2017: “Special Prize” of the European Theatre Prize.
  • 2018: the University of Ibadan renamed its arts theatre to Wole Soyinka Theatre.
  • 2018: Honourary Doctorate Degree of Letters, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).
  • 2022: Honorary Degree from Cambridge University: This is a degree that is bestowed upon people who have made outstanding achievements in their respective fields.

Awards & Nominations

Wole Soyinka has received numerous awards and honours, most of which cannot be accounted for. Some of his awards and nominations are the following:

  • In 1972, he received the “Honoris Causa” doctorate from the University of Leeds.
  • 1983: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, United States
  • In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and he became the first and only Nigerian and second African to achieve this feat. In the same year, he was honoured with the AGIP Prize in Literature.
  • 1986: Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
  • In 1993, he received an honorary doctorate from Harvard University.
  • In 1994, he was appointed as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media, and communication.
  • 2005: Conferred with the chieftaincy title of the Akinlatun of Egbaland by the Oba Alake of the Egba clan of Yorubaland
  • In 2009, he has conferred the Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award.
  • 2013: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Lifetime Achievement, United States
  • 2014: International Humanist Award

Net Worth

As for Professor Soyinka, he has amassed a respectable sum of riches that he currently enjoys thanks to his publications, literature articles, research projects, and classroom instruction. He is estimated to be worth $20 million.

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