By Amandeep T.
Wole Soyinka is a dramatist, poet, author, teacher, and political activist. He was the first African to be honored by the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He has published a hundred of works, including drama, novels, essays, and poetry.
Soyinka was born on July 13, 1934, in Nigeria. His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, was an important Anglican minister; his mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, was a local, prominent activist known as the “Wild Christian.”
He completed his college preparatory studies from a government school in Ibadan in 1954. Afterward, he moved to England for further studies at the University of Leeds. He also worked as an editor of the school’s magazine, The Eagle. In 1958, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature.
Soyinka wrote his first prominent play, “A Dance of the Forests,” in 1950. From 1958 to 1959, Soyinka played the role of dramaturgic at the Royal Court Theatre in London. After being awarded the Rockefeller fellowship, he returned to Nigeria in 1960 to study African drama.
Much of his writing has been concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it,” particularly with regards to the Nigerian government and its numerous dictators. During the regime of General Sani Abacha, Soyinka escaped from Nigeria, after which Abacha proclaimed a death sentence against him “in absentia.” Once civilian rule was restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his home country.
Soyinka was a comparative literature professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, then called the University of Ife. In the U.S., he first taught at Cornell University and then at Emory University, where he was appointed a Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts in 1996. Soyinka has been a creative writing professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has served as scholar-in-residence at NYU’s Institute of African American Affairs and at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. He has also taught at Oxford, Harvard and Yale.
In 2011, the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre built a writers’ enclave in Soyinka’s honor located in Adeyipo Village, Ibadan, Nigeria. It includes a Writer-in-Residence Program that enables writers to stay for a period of two, three or six months to pursue creative writing projects.