The Man Called Wole Soyinka Biography

Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in

Abeokuta . In 1954, he attended Government College in Ibadan , and subsequently


University College Ibadan and the University of Leeds in England. 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.

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 as Goldwin Smith professor for African Studies and Theatre Arts from 1988 to 1991 and then at Emory University, where in 1996 he was appointed

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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 . Soyinka was also a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Duke University in 2008.

In December 2017, he was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in the “Special Prize” category

awarded to someone who has “contributed to the realization of cultural events that promote understanding and the exchange of knowledge between peoples”.

Life and work

A descendant of a Remo family of Isara-Remo , Soyinka was born the second of six children, in the city of Abẹokuta , Ogun State, in Nigeria, at that time a British dominion. His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka (whom he called S.A. or “Essay”), was an Anglican minister and the headmaster of St. Peters School in Abẹokuta. Soyinka’s mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka (whom he dubbed the “Wild Christian”), owned a shop in the nearby market. She was a political activist within the women’s movement in the local community. She was also Anglican . As much of the community followed indigenous Yorùbá religious tradition , Soyinka grew up in a religious atmosphere of syncretism , with influences from both cultures. 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. His father’s position enabled him to get electricity and radio at home. He writes extensively about his childhood in one of his memoirs, Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981).

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