Born in 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria, Wole Soyinka attended school first in Nigeria and later in the United Kingdom, where he spent several years, working at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
Since returning to Nigeria in 1960, Soyinka has taught drama and literature at various local universities. He has also been a visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
Soyinka is an accomplished writer, poet and playwright. He has published over 20 works. Some of his notable plays include A Dance of the Forest (1960), The Lion and the Jewel (1963), Kongi’s Harvest (1967), The Trials of Brother Jero (1963) and its sequel, Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973).
In addition to his own plays, Soyinka has adapted a number of classic plays to suit the African context, including Euripedes’ The Bacchae, Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, and Genet’s The Blacks.
He has written two novels, The Interpreters (1965), a complicated narrative which some have compared to Joyce’s and Faulkner’s, in which six Nigerian intellectuals discuss and interpret their African experiences, and Season of Anomy (1973) which is based on the writer’s thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba. He has also published a number of memoirs.
In 1986, Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first African to ever receive this prestigious award.
Throughout his career, Soyinka has been a vocal critic of African politicians, particularly in his native Nigeria. In 1965, he was arrested and detained briefly for demanding the cancellation of regional elections in Western Nigeria. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the Federal Government for trying to broker a peace between the warring Nigerian and Biafran parties. During Nigeria’s military rule, under General Sani Abacha, he was sentenced to death in absentia.
Soyinka has spoken out against political tyrants worldwide, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Selected Books by Wole Soyinka
- The Interpreters
- Season of Anomie
- The Man Died: Prison Notes
- Aké: The Years of Childhood
- Isara: A Voyage around Essay
- Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: a memoir 1946-65
- You Must Set Forth at Dawn