Thursday, 13 July 2017


Prof Soyinka and Dr Raphael James

Born July 13, 1934 in Abeokuta, Ogun State to Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, an Anglican Minister and the headmaster of St. Peters School in Abeokuta and Grace Eniola Soyinka, a political activist and the daughter of Rev. Canon JJ Ransome-Kuti. He attended St. Peters Primary School in Abeokuta; Abokuta Grammar School; Government College Ibadan; University College Ibadan (1952–54), he read English literature, Greek, and Western history. In 1953–54 as a student he wrote a short radio play for Nigerian Broadcasting Service, "Keffi's Birthday Threat," which was aired in July 1954. As a student he also founded the Pyrates Confraternity, an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organization, alongside six other students. He left for England in 1954, joined the University of Leeds (1954–57).

Prof Soyinka at CRIMMD
He worked as an editor for the satirical magazine ‘The Eagle’. His first major play, The Swamp Dwellers (1958), was followed a year later by ‘The Lion and the Jewel, a comedy that attracted interest from several members of London's Royal Court Theatre. Encouraged, Soyinka moved to London, where he worked as a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre. During the same period, both of his plays were performed in Ibadan. They dealt with the uneasy relationship between progress and tradition in Nigeria.

Prof Soyinka with Africa's youngest published author - Ebube

CD at a rally beside the grave of Bashorun MKO Abiola (Hafsat Abiola, Prof Wole Soyinka, Dr Joe Odumaikin and others)
In 1957 his play ‘The Invention’ was the first of his works to be produced at the Royal Court Theatre. At that time his only published works were poems such as "The Immigrant" and "My Next Door Neighbour", published in ‘Black Orpheus magazine.’ He received a Rockefeller Research Fellowship from University College in Ibadan, his alma mater, for research on African theatre, and he returned to Nigeria. He produced ‘The Trials of Brother Jero’. And ‘A Dance of The Forest’ (1960), which became the official play for Nigerian Independence Day on October 1, 1960, he also established the "Nineteen-Sixty Masks", an amateur acting group.

Chief Mrs H.I.D. Awolowo with the Nobel laureate, prof Wole Soyinka
He worked as a lecturer at the Department of English Language at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-If in 1962. In 1963, he released the movie, Culture in Transition and in April 1964 ‘The Interpreters’, was published in London.

The Original Seven, at Tedder Hall Quadrangle, University College Ibadan in 1953 Wole Soyinka Ikpehare Aig Imoukhuede Sylvanus Egbuche Pius Oleghe Nathaniel Oyelola Muyiwa Awe Ralph Opara pirate fraternity

He is the founder of Drama Association of Nigeria. He resigned as a lecturer in 1964. He was arrested by government and was released by appeals from international community of writers. Out of prison he wrote Before the Blackout’,Kongi’s Harvest’ and ‘The Detainee’, a radio play for the BBC in London. He was later appointed Head of Department, Department of English Language at University of Lagos. In April 1965, ‘Kongi’s Harvest’ was produced at the International Festival of Negro Art in Dakar, Senegal; ‘The Road’ was awarded the Grand Prix and ‘The Lion and The Jewel’ was performed at Hampstead Theatre Club in London.

Prof Soyinka receiving his noble prize
General Yakubu Gowon arrested him in 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War and kept him in solitary confinement for two years. After his release he was appointed a professor at Cornell University,  and Emory University in Atlanta, where in 1996 he was appointed a Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts, he has also taught at the universities of Oxford, Harvard and Yale. He was a Professor of Comparative Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University 1975-1999; Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Professor in Residence at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, US.

Wole Soyinka with a Guitar and his friend Banjo Solaru, London 1958
In 1984, his book ‘The Man Died’ was banned. In 1986 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first African laureate. In 1986, he received the Agip Prize for Literature. In 1988, his collection of poems ‘Mandela's Earth, and Other Poems’ was published, while in Nigeria another collection of essays entitled Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture appeared. In 1990, the second portion of his memoir ‘Isara: A Voyage Around Essay’ appeared. In July 1991 the BBC African Service transmitted his radio play ‘A Scourge of Hyacinths’, and the next year (1992) in Sienna (Italy), his play ‘From Zia with Love’ had its premiere. In 1993 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Harvard University. In 1994, he published his autobiography: ‘Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years (A Memoir: 1946–1965)’. In 1995 his play ‘The Beatification of Area Boy’ was published. In October 1994 he was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication. He fled Nigeria in 1994, in 1996 his book ‘The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis’ was first published. In 1999 a new volume of poems entitled Outsiders was released. His play King Baabu, premiered in Lagos in 2001, in 2002 a collection of his poems, ‘Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known’, was published. In 2006, his memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn was published. In 2011, the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre built a writers' enclave in his honour in Adeyipo Village, Ibadan, Oyo State. In 2014, he visited the CRIMMD PHOTO MUSEUM OF NIGERIAN HISTORY where he saw his photo at age 5 and he gave us very high commendation for preserving Nigerian history through photographs. Today, as he clocks 83, CRIMMD felicitate with him on this special occasion with a special book reading involving 10 of his books.


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