Wole Soyinka, in full Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright and political activist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.
Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta. He was raised in a religious family, attending church services and singing in the choir from an early age; however Soyinka himself became an atheist later in life. He writes extensively about his childhood in one of his memoirs, Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981).
After studying in Nigeria and the UK, he worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London. He went on to write plays that were produced in both countries, in theatres and on radio.
He took an active role in Nigeria's political history and its struggle for independence from Great Britain. In 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. In 1967 during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon and put in solitary confinement for two years.
In October 1969, when the civil war came to an end, amnesty was proclaimed, and Soyinka and other political prisoners were freed. For the first few months after his release, Soyinka stayed at a friend’s farm in southern France, where he sought solitude. He wrote The Bacchae of Euripides (1969), a reworking of the Pentheus myth.He soon published in London a book of poetry, Poems from Prison. At the end of the year, he returned to his office as Headmaster of Cathedral of Drama in Ibadan.
Soyinka has been a strong critic of successive Nigerian governments, especially the country's many military dictators, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Much of his writing has been concerned with "the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it". During the regime of General Sani Abacha (1993–98), Soyinka escaped from Nigeria on a motorcycle via the "NADECO Route." Abacha later proclaimed a death sentence against him "in absentia." With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his nation.
In Nigeria, Soyinka was a Professor of Comparative Literature (1975 to 1999) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ife. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, he was made professor emeritus. While in the United States, he first taught at Cornell University and then at Emory University where in 1996 he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing 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, US. He has also taught at the universities of Oxford, Harvard and Yale.
In 2011, the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre built a writers' enclave in his honour. It is located in Adeyipo Village, Lagelu Local Government Area, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. The enclave includes a Writer-in-Residence Programme that enables writers to stay for a period of two, three or six months, engaging in serious creative writing. In 2013, he visited the Benin Moat as the representative of UNESCO in recognition of the Naija seven Wonders project. He is currently the consultant for the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, with the Lagos State deeming him as the only person
“The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”
“For me, justice is the prime condition of humanity”
“Books and all forms or writing are a terror to those who want to suppress the truth”