Wole Soyinka

Wole SoyinkaWole Soyinka was born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka in Abeokuta, Nigeria on July 13, 1934. The son of a canon in the Anglican Church, Soyinka grew up in an Anglican mission compound in Aké. However, his parents were careful to balance this colonial, English-speaking environment with regular visits to his father's ancestral home in Isara. He would later chronicle these years in his autobiographical work, Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981) as well as in Isara, a Voyage Around "Essay" (1989).

Soyinka attended the University of Ibadan (1952-54) before earning a BA in English from the University of Leeds. From 1957 to 1959, he served as a script-reader, actor and director at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and while there, developed three experimental pieces with a company of actors he had brought together. Although African writers have traditionally viewed English, French, and other European languages as the tongue of the colonial power, the tool of stigma and imperialism, Soyinka made the decision to write in English in order to gain access to an international audience.

In 1960, Soyinka returned to Nigeria and founded the 1960 Masks, a theatre company that would present his first major play, A Dance of the Forests, in which the spirit world and the living world clash over the future of a half-born child. Although A Dance of the Forests exhibits a fairly serious tone, much of Soyinka's early work satirized the absurdities of his society with a gently humorous and affectionate spirit. As the struggle for independence in his country turned sour, however, Soyinka's work began to take on a darker tone.

In October of 1965, Soyinka was arrested for allegedly seizing the Western Region radio studios and making a political broadcast disputing the published results of the recent elections. In December of that same year, he was acquitted. He then served as director of the Drama School of Ibadan University in Nigeria until 1967, when he was arrested for writings sympathetic to secessionist Biafra. This time, he was imprisoned for twenty-two months. In Madmen and Specialists (1970), written shortly after his release from prison, Soyinka's protest grows much more powerful, perhaps as much a tribute to the playwright's suffering as to his growth as an artist. Madmen and Specialists dramatizes what the NEW YORK TIMES calls, "a police state in which only madmen and spies can survive, in which the losers are mad and the winners are paranoid about the possibility of another rebellion." In another powerful piece, Death and the King's Horseman (1975), the Elesin--chief minister to the dead King--fails to properly exercise his act of ritual suicide, thus jeopardizing the delicate and mystical balance between the dead, the living, and the unborn.

Soyinka served as head of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan (1969-72) and head of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Ife (1975-85). In 1978, Soyinka founded another theatre company, the Unife Guerilla Theatre. Based out of the University of Ife, this company presented plays and sketches in parks, markets, and on street corners, attacking corruption and political oppression.

Soyinka's other plays include Kongi's Harvest (1967), The Lion and the Jewel (1964), The Trials of Brother Jero (1964), The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), Opera Wonyosi (1977), A Play of Giants (1985), Requiem for a Futurologist (1985) and Beautification of Area Boy (1994). He is also known for his novels, autobiographical works, poetry, and criticism, and in 1986, he became the first African writer ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Soyinka's Plays  |  Other Works  |  Biographies/Studies


Soyinka's Plays

Other Works


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