Black Writers: Wole Soyinka



Wole Soyinka reads from his book Samarkand & Other Markets I Have Known.

In 1986, Soyinka became the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. In plays, novels, and poems, he has chronicled the political turmoil of his native Nigeria. At the same time that he has painted a vivid portrait of Nigeria under and after colonial rule, he has also addressed the wider question of the persistence of humanity in the face of cruelty, intolerance, and outrage. His writing displays the influences of both modern European writing and traditional Yoruba mythology.

Soyinka’s writing spans genre and also tone, with his work ranging from satiric comedy to serious philosophy. Among his notable publications are the play Death and the King’s Horseman (1975), the collection of literary essays Myth, Literature, and the African World (1975), the autobiographical Ake: The Years of Childhood (1981), and a series of Du Bois Institute lectures The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis (1997). Most recently, he has published a collection of poetry written during a period of exile from Nigeria entitled Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known (2003).

Soyinka was born in 1934 in Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. His father was headmaster of the Anglican mission school in the village of AkŽ, and it was here that Soyinka received his first education. He writes of his childhood experiences in the autobiographical AkŽ (1981), in which he recounts the juxtaposition of his early Christian training and his schooling in traditional Yoruba beliefs and practices. He went on to university studies at the Government College in Ibadan and then at the University of Leeds, from which he earned a doctorate in 1973. From the 1960s on, Soyinka has taught drama and literature at universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife and in a number of visiting professorships in Europe and the United States, at institutions including Cambridge and Yale. He is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts at Emory University, in Atlanta, and has been a fellow of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University. In 1999, Soyinka was named the first distinguished scholar-in-residence by New York University’s Africana Studies Program and the Institute of African-American Affairs.

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