Wole Soyinka, B.A. (Honors), whose full name is
Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, is a Nigerian writer who is
Africa’s most distinguished playwright. He won the
Prize in Literature in 1986, the first African to be so
Listen to his Nobel lecture! Watch his interview with freelance journalist Simon Stanford after he won his Nobel Prize! Read his Nobel Banquet Speech! Watch him read his poem “Lost Poems” from Samarkand & Other Markets I Have Known at Harvard University. Watch or read his interview entitled “Writing, Theater Arts, and Political Activism” at the Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. Listen to his BBC Reith lectures The Changing Mask of Fear, Power of Freedom, Rhetoric that Binds and Blinds, Quest for Dignity, and I am Right; You are Dead. Read his Stanford Presidential Lectures. Read his famous quotes.
Wole was born into a poor Yoruba family in Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1934. He received a primary school education in Abeokuta and secondary school at Government College, Ibadan. He studied at the University College, Ibadan, Nigeria (1952–1954) and the University of Leeds, UK (1954–1957) from which he received an honors degree in English Literature. He worked as a play reader at the Royal Court Theatre in London before returning to Nigeria to study African drama. He taught in the Nigerian Universities of Lagos, Ibadan, and Ife (becoming Professor of Comparative Literature there in 1975).
He received a honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Leeds, UK in 1973. He received a honorary Doctor of Letters from Yale in 1980, a honorary Doctorate from Morehouse College in 1988, a honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Toronto in 1992, a honorary Doctorate from Harvard University in 1993, a honorary Doctor of Letters from Emory University in 1996, a honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from UNLV in 2000, a honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Alberta in 2001, a honorary Doctor of Letters from Addis Ababa University in 2003, and a honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Princeton in 2005.
His books include Death and the King’s Horseman, You Must Set Forth at Dawn : A Memoir, Climate of Fear : The Quest for Dignity in a Dehumanized World (Reith Lectures), Ake : The Years of Childhood, Selected Poems, Wole Soyinka: Plays, Collected Plays 2, Conversations With Wole Soyinka, The Interpreters, African Theatre: Soyinka Blackout, Blowout & Beyond, The Lion and the Jewel, Myth, Literature and the African World, and The Open Sore of a Continent : A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis.
Wole has played an active role in Nigeria’s political history. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War he was arrested by the Federal Government and put in solitary confinement for his attempts at brokering a peace between the warring parties. While in prison he wrote poetry which was published in a collection titled Poems from Prison. He was released 22 months later after international attention was drawn to his imprisonment. His experiences in prison are recounted in his book The Man Died: Prison Notes.
Wole has been an outspoken critic of many Nigerian administrations, and of political tyrannies worldwide, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. A great deal of his writing has been concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it”. This activism has often exposed him to great personal risk most notably during the government of the Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha (1993–1998).
During Abacha’s dictatorship, Wole left the country in voluntary exile and has since been living abroad (mainly in the United States where he was a professor at Emory University in Atlanta). When civilian rule returned in 1999, he accepted an emeritus post at Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) on the condition that the university bar all former military officers from the position of chancellor. He is currently the Elias Ghanem Professor of Creative Writing at the English department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
In 2005, he became one of the spearheads of an alternative National Nigerian conference – PRONACO. Watch or read his first interview by Democracy Now! Watch or read his second interview by Democracy Now!