Soyinka, Wole

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Soyinka, Wole

Wole Soyinka (wō´lā shôyĬng´kə), 1934–, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist, born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka. Educated at the universities of Ibadan and Leeds, England, and at London's Royal Court Theatre, he writes in English, fusing Western and Yoruba traditions. In Nigeria, he founded the Masks amateur theater company and the professional Orisun Repertory, both of which presented plays in English that incorporated the traditions of Nigerian music and dance. He has taught at the Univ. of Ife, Nigeria, and at Cornell. Imprisoned (1967–69) for political activism during Nigeria's civil war (see Biafra, Republic of), he wrote his prison notes, The Man Died (1973). In 1986 Soyinka became the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Again under threat of arrest from the Nigerian government in 1994, he fled abroad. After the death of Nigeria's military dictator (1998), Soyinka returned home, where he resumed his political activism and has been an outspoken critic of Nigeria's government.

Soyinka's works are concerned with the tensions between spiritual and material worlds, with beliefs as the underpinnings of social relations, and with individuals' dependence on one another. His widely performed plays often highlight the problems of daily life in Africa; best known are Death and the King's Horseman (1975) and A Play of Giants (1984), a satiric attack on contemporary Africa. His novels include The Interpreters (1965), which considers the plight of young Nigerians in an increasingly corrupt society, and Isara (1988). His essay collections—such as Art, Dialogue, and Outrage (1988, 1994) and The Burden of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness (1998)—discuss a variety of African cultural and political issues. He has also written memoirs memoirs: Ake (1983), which outlines his early life and offers insights into Nigerian culture during the late colonial period, and You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006), which covers his adult years and focuses on his political activism in opposition to Nigeria's corrupt regimes.

See studies by E. Jones (1973), J. Gibbs (1986), and K. Katrak (1986).

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