Nigerian poet and author Titilola Atinuke Alexandrah Shoneyin, better known by her pen name Lola Shoneyin (born 26 February 1974), published her first book, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, in the UK in May 2010. With the release of three poetry collections, Shoneyin has made a name for himself as a risk-taking, funny, and opinionated poet (typically categorised in the feminist mould). She was listed in the Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers under the age of forty who have the potential and promise to set the standard for modern African writing in April 2014. She received the PEN Award in America as well as the Ken Saro-Wiwa Award for writing in Nigeria.
Early Life and Education
On February 26, 1974, Lola Shoneyin was born in Oyo State, Ibadan. She is the youngest of six children and the only female. Her parents, Chief Tinuoye Shoneyin and Mrs. Yetunde Shoneyin (née Okupe), resided in Ogun State where she was born and nurtured.
Abraham Olayinka Okupe (1896–1966), the traditional chief of Iperu Remo who had five wives, had a significant influence on Shoneyin’s life and work and provided inspiration for her first book’s discussion of polygamy. He died in 1976 after being crowned in 1938.
When she was six years old, she started going to boarding school in the UK. She attended The Collegiate School in Winterbourne, Bristol, Edinburgh’s Fettes Junior School, and Edinburgh’s Cargilfield School. She went back to Nigeria to finish her secondary studies at Abadina College after the previous military government imprisoned her father. She then earned a BA (Hons) from Ogun State University in 1994/95. She visited Iowa, in the United States, in August 1999 as part of the renowned Iowa International Writers Program. She was a Distinguished Scholar at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, USA, the following year. She earned a teaching degree from London Metropolitan University in 2005 while residing in England.
Most of Shoneyin’s early writings are poems and short stories. One of her earlier pieces, a little story about a Nigerian woman who divorced her husband and wed an Austrian woman, was published in the Post Express (a British daily) in 1995. This story sparked a conversation on homosexuality in Nigeria. Her paternal grandpa was also a polygamist, as was her maternal grandfather, His Royal Highness (HRH) Abraham Olayinka Okupe, who was the traditional king of Iperu Remo (1896–1966). He had five wives. As a result, her book, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives,” offers insight into polygamy.
Her first book, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, which she originally titled “Serpent’s Tail,” was translated into Italian and released as “Prudenti like Serpenti” in the UK in May 2010. She has written books and essays for publications like The Scotsman, The Guardian, and The Times on subjects like racism, polygamous marriage in Nigeria, the Boko Haram terrorist group, and the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Shoneyin taught English and served as the deputy principal at a secondary school in Abuja, Nigeria. She presently serves as the director of the non-governmental Book Buzz Foundation in Nigeria, whose main objectives include promoting literacy through the creation of reading programs and spaces for kids as well as the monthly Ake Arts and Book Festival.
She is wed to Olaokun Soyinka, a physician and the Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka’s son. He was formerly the Nigerian state of Ogun’s health commissioner. She currently lives in Lagos with her husband and their four children (2 boys and 2 girls).
- The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, London: Serpent’s Tail, May 2010, which was translated into seven languages, published in Italian as Prudenti Come Serpenti.
- Nostalgia is an Extreme Sport: An essay from the collection, Of This Our Country
- “Woman in Her Season,” Post Express Newspapers, 1996.
- So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg (1998)
- Song of a River Bird, Ovalonion House (Nigeria, 2002).
- For the Love of Flight (2010)
- Mayowa and the Masquerade, July 2010, published in the US in 2020;
- Do As You Are Told.
- Baji; and Iyaji, the housegirl
- Abiola, Emmanuel. Negotiating Patriarchal Structures: Polygamy and Female Agency in Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Ibadan Journal of English Studies 7 (2018): 497–504.
- Bámgbózé, Gabriel. “Beyond Gender Allegory: A Postcolonial Reading of Lola Shoneyin’s Poetry.” Ibadan Journal of English Studies 7 (2018): 155–170.
- Jegede, O. B. Subversive (re) writing and body poetics in Lola Shoneyin’s “So all the time I was sitting on an egg.” Ibadan Journal of English Studies 7 (2018), 207–224.
Awards and Nomination
- The 2011 Orange Prize
- The 2011 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award.
- She won two Association of Nigerian Authors Awards.
- Hay Festival’s Africa39 list features 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with the potential and talent to define trends in African literature.
- Ken Saro-Wiwa Award for prose in Nigeria.
- African Literary Person of the Year by Brittle Paper
Her estimated net worth is currently unavailable.