Wole Soyinka, also known as Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, is a Nigerian playwright, writer, poet, and essayist who writes in English. He was the first African from Sub-Saharan Africa to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.
Wole Soyinka was born on July 13, 1934. He was born in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, to a Yoruba family. He began his education at Government College in Ibadan in 1954, then went on to University College Ibadan and the University of Leeds in England. He worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London after studying in Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
He wrote plays that were performed in theatres and on the radio in both Nigeria and the UK. He was a key figure in Nigeria’s political history and independence struggle from British colonial authority.
Atinuke Aina Soyinka, Femi Soyinka, Yeside Soyinka, Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka, and Kayode Soyinka were his brothers and sisters. Folashade Soyinka, his younger sister, died on her first birthday.
His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, also known as Essay, was an Anglican preacher and the headmaster of St. Peters School in Abeokuta. He was a relative of the Odemo, King of Isara-Remo, Samuel Akinsanya, a founding father of Nigeria, and had strong familial ties.
His mother was a prominent member of the Ransome-Kuti family, she was the only daughter of Rev. Canon J. J. Ransome-first Kuti’s daughter Anne Lape Iyabode Ransome-Kuti, and thus a niece to Olusegun Azariah Ransome-Kuti, Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, and niece-in-law to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Musician Fela Kuti, human rights activist Beko Ransome-Kuti, politician Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, and activist Yemisi Ransome-Kuti were among Soyinka’s first cousins. Femi and Seun Kuti, musicians; and Yeni Kuti, a dancer, are his second cousins.
ALSO READ: Chimamanda Adichie biography
Soyinka stayed in Leeds after graduating with an upper second-class degree and began work on an MA. He aspired to produce new works that combined European theatrical traditions with Yorùbá cultural customs.
The Swamp Dwellers (1958), his first big production, was followed a year later by The Lion and the Jewel, a comedy that piqued the interest of several Royal Court Theatre members. Soyinka was encouraged to move to London and work as a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre. Both of his plays were performed in Ibadan at the same time. They discussed Nigeria’s tense connection between progress and tradition.
His drama, The Invention, was the first of his works to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre, which opened in 1957. Poems like The Immigrant and My Next Door Neighbour, which were published in the Nigerian magazine Black Orpheus at the time, were his only published works. Ulli Beier, a German professor who had been teaching at the University of Ibadan since 1950, founded it in 1957.
After receiving a Rockefeller Research Fellowship from University College in Ibadan, Wole Soyinka returned to Nigeria for research on African theatre. After the fifth issue (November 1959), Soyinka took over as coeditor of the literary quarterly Black Orpheus (named after a 1948 article by Jean-Paul Sartre, Orphée Noir, published as a prologue to Léopold Senghor’s Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache).
In April 1960, he premiered his new satire, The Trials of Brother Jero, in the dining hall of University College Ibadan’s Mellanby Hall.
His piece A Dance of the Forest, a stinging critique of Nigeria’s political elites, won a competition to be the official play for Nigerian Independence Day that year. It premiered in Lagos on October 1, 1960, when Nigeria celebrated its independence.
The drama mocks the young nation by demonstrating that the present is no better than the past. In 1960, Soyinka founded the Nineteen-Sixty Masks, an amateur performing troupe to which he dedicated a significant amount of time over the next few years.
ALSO READ: Aliko Dangote Biography
Soyinka was the first Nigerian to write a full-length drama broadcast on television. On August 6, 1960, the play My Father’s Burden, directed by Segun Olusola, was broadcast on Western Nigeria Television (WNTV).
As his Yorùbá hometown was gradually invaded and controlled by the Federal Government, Soyinka released works satirizing the emergency in Nigeria’s Western Region. The political difficulties that arose due to the country’s recent post-colonial independence led to a military coup and civil war (1967–70).
Towards a True Theatre, by Wole Soyinka, was published in December 1962. He started teaching at Obafemi Awolowo University’s Department of English Language situated in Ile-Ife. He spoke with négrophiles about current events and publicly criticised government restrictions on various occasions. His debut feature film, Culture in Transition was released at the end of 1963. André Deutsch released The Interpreters in London in 1965, calling it a complex yet brilliantly documentary tale.
Soyinka created the Drama Association of Nigeria in December of that year with the help of scientists and actors. In 1964, he also resigned from his academic position in protest of the authorities’ imposed pro-government behaviour. He was arrested for the first time a few months later, in 1965, for allegedly holding up a radio station at gunpoint (as described in his 2006 memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn)and substituting a tape of a taped address by Western Nigeria’s leader with another audio carrying allegations of electoral fraud. Soyinka was released after a few months of detention following protests from the international writing community.
In the same year, he composed two more dramatic works: Before the Blackout and Kongi’s Harvest, a comedy. He also authored The Detainee for the BBC in London, a radio piece. His drama The Road had its world premiere on September 14, 1965, at the Theatre Royal in London as part of the Commonwealth Arts Festival. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in the Department of English Language at the University of Lagos after the year.
When the civil war ended in October 1969, an amnesty was declared, and Soyinka and other political prisoners were released. Soyinka sought isolation at a friend’s property in southern France for the first few months after his release. He reworked the Pentheus tale in The Bacchae of Euripides (1969). Poems from Prison, his first poetry collection, was published in London soon after. He returned to his position as Chair of Drama at Ibadan at the end of the year.
ALSO READ: Bishop David Oyedepo Biography
Wole Soyinka books
Wole Soyinka has written several books, plays, short stories, memoirs, and poetry collections. Below is a list of some of them.
- The Interpreter (1965).
- Season of Anatomy (1972).
- Chronicles of the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (2021).
- A Tale of Two (1958).
- Egbe Sworn Enemy (1960).
- Madame Etienne’s Establishment (1960).
- The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972).
- Ake: The Years of Childhood (1981).
- Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: a memoir 1945- 1965 (1989).
- Ìsara: A Voyage around Essay (1989).
- You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006).
- Keffi’s Birthday Treat (1954).
- The Invention (1957).
- The Swamp Dwellers (1958).
- The Lion and the Jewel (1959).
- The Trials of Brother Jero (1960).
- My Father’s Burden (1960).
- A Dance to the Forest (1960).
- The Strong Breed (1964).
- Kongi Harvest (1964).
- Madmen and Specialist (1970).
- Death and the King’s Horseman (1975).
- The Detainee (radio play)
- King Baabu ( 2001)
ALSO READ: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Biography
- Idanre and other poems (1967).
- Telephone Conversations (1963)
- A Shuttle in the Crypt (1971).
- Ogun Abibiman (1976).
- Mandela’s Earth and other poems (1988).
- Early Poems (1997).
Wole Soyinka awards
The Wole Soyinka Annual Lecture Series was established in 1994 to “honour one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s most remarkable and enduring literary icons, Professor Wole Soyinka.” It is organized by the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity), which Soyinka formed in 1952 at the then University College Ibadan with six other students.
The writer has received several awards for his writings. Some of them are:
- Honorary D.Litt., University of Leeds, 1973.
- Anisfield-Wolf Book Award,1983.
- Agip Prize for Literature,1986.
- Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR), 1986.
- Benson Medal, Royal Society of Literature, 1990.
- Honorary Doctorate, Harvard University, 1993.
- Enstooled as the Akinlatun of Egbaland, 2005.
- Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013.
- International Humanist Award, 2014.
ALSO READ: Obi Cubana biography
Wole Soyinka Nobel Prize
In 1986, Soyinka received the Nobel Prize for Literature, making him the first African laureate. He was defined as someone who “fashions the drama of living from a broad cultural perspective and with lyrical overtones.”
His Nobel Prize is also the first to be given to an African writer or to a writer from one of the “new literatures” in English that have formed in the former British colonies.
Wole Soyinka family
Soyinka has had three marriages and two divorces. From his three marriages, he has had three children. In 1958, he married Barbara Dixon, a late British writer whom he met at the University of Leeds in the 1950s. Olaokun, his first son, was born to Barbara. He married Nigerian librarian Olaide Idowu in 1963, and they had three daughters: Moremi, Iyetade (dead), and Peyibomi, as well as a second son, Ilemakin. In 1989, Soyinka married Folake Doherty.
Wole Soyinka’s net worth is estimated at N10.37 billion ($25m). His net worth is obtained from his poems, novels, plays, and memoirs.
Like his cousin, Fela Kuti, Wole Soyinka was not afraid to use his writings as a tool to fight against the malpractices in Nigeria.
He was also imprisoned severally, but that never deterred him. While in prison, he continued to write against the corruption that was going on in society.
He is also an inspiration to young aspiring writers that through determination and hard work anything is possible.
ALSO READ: Tiwa Savage net worth and biography