Wole Soyinka

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Soyinka, Wole

(wō`lā shôyĭng`kə), 1934–, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist, born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka. Educated at the universities of Ibadan and Leeds, England, and at London's Royal Court Theatre, he writes in English, fusing Western and YorubaYoruba
, people of SW Nigeria and Benin, numbering about 20 million. Today many of the large cities in Nigeria (including Lagos, Ibadan, and Abeokuta) are in Yorubaland.
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 traditions. In Nigeria, he founded the Masks amateur theater company and the professional Orisun Repertory, both of which presented plays in English that incorporated the traditions of Nigerian music and dance. He has taught at the Univ. of Ife, Nigeria, and at Cornell. Imprisoned (1967–69) for political activism during Nigeria's civil war (see Biafra, Republic ofBiafra, Republic of,
secessionist state of W Africa, in existence from May 30, 1967, to Jan. 15, 1970. At the outset Biafra comprised, roughly, the East-Central, South-Eastern, and Rivers states of the Federation of Nigeria, where the Igbo people predominated.
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), he wrote his prison notes, The Man Died (1973). In 1986 Soyinka became the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Again under threat of arrest from the Nigerian government in 1994, he fled abroad. After the death of Nigeria's military dictator (1998), Soyinka returned home, where he resumed his political activism and has been an outspoken critic of Nigeria's government.

Soyinka's works are concerned with the tensions between spiritual and material worlds, with beliefs as the underpinnings of social relations, and with individuals' dependence on one another. His widely performed plays often highlight the problems of daily life in Africa; best known are Death and the King's Horseman (1975) and A Play of Giants (1984), a satiric attack on contemporary Africa. His novels include The Interpreters (1965), which considers the plight of young Nigerians in an increasingly corrupt society, and Isara (1988). His essay collections—such as Art, Dialogue, and Outrage (1988, 1994) and The Burden of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness (1998)—discuss a variety of African cultural and political issues. He has also written memoirs memoirs: Ake (1983), which outlines his early life and offers insights into Nigerian culture during the late colonial period, and You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006), which covers his adult years and focuses on his political activism in opposition to Nigeria's corrupt regimes.


See studies by E. Jones (1973), J. Gibbs (1986), and K. Katrak (1986).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Soyinka, Wole


Born July 13, 1934, in Abeokuta. Nigerian writer and playwright.

In the satiric plays The Lion and the Jewel (1963) and A Dance of the Forests (1963), Soyinka employed the grotesque to show the clash between the traditional and the modern in Africa, urging his people to reflect seriously on their past. He is the author of the picaresque comedy The Trials of Brother Jew (1964), the antiwar parable Madmen and Specialists (1971), and the novel The Interpreters (1965; Russian translation, 1970), in which he exposed corruption in the bureaucracy of Nigeria and criticized extreme forms of African nationalism. Soyinka’s poems are pervaded with themes of disenchantment with the reality of modernday Nigeria.


Five Plays. London-Ibadan, 1964.
The Road. London-Ibadan, 1965.
Idanre and Other Poems. London [1967].
The Man Died, Prison Notes. New York, 1972.
In Russian translation:
[Stikhi.] In Golosa afrikanskikh poetov. Moscow, 1968.


Sovremennye literatury Afriki: Sev. i Zap. Afrika. Moscow, 1973. (See index.)
Sovremennye literatury Afriki: Vost. i luzh. Afrika. Moscow, 1974. (See index.)
Moore, G. Wole Soyinka. [London, 1971.]
Ricard, A. Théàtre et nationalisme: Wole Soyinka et Leroi Jones. Paris [1972].
Jones, E. D. The Writing of Wole Soyinka. London, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Suprisingly backing claims of Wole Soyinka being a blackmailer, Reno Omokri recounted how the celebrated novelist insulted former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife Patience Jonathan on numerous occassions.
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The favourite to get the nod, or t'nod, is Wole Soyinka (right) who, when imprisoned in solitary confinement in Nigeria during the 1967-1970 civil war, had his poems smuggled out on toilet paper.
This compilation of essays honors Nigerian author and Africa's first Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka. It pays due homage to a tremendous voice of conscience contemplating diplomacy and creativity.
Lagos, Nigeria (AFP) -- Nigeria's literary icon Wole Soyinka turned 80 on Sunday, with friends and foes alike paying tribute to the first African to win the Nobel literature prize.
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In 2011,1 was lucky to be a guest of UNISA, in Pretoria, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Wole Soyinka's 1986 Nobel Prize.
Wole Soyinka's A Dance of the Forests is a complex play in which there is a "gathering of the tribes" in a festivity in which the living asks their gods to invite some of their illustrious ancestors.
Among the topics are the narratives of the postcolony in Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters, Eastern African slavery in life and literature, an interview with the septuagenarian Afro-German Africanist Wonja Michael, and romantic and revolutionary visions of Caribbean history.
He was a literary contemporary of Nigeria's Wole Soyinka - who in 1986 became the first black author to win a Nobel Prize for literature - and it was often felt in literary circles that Achebe was another author worthy of Nobel Prize consideration.