Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.
Who is Wole Soyinka?
Some writers are driven by their imagination to write fiction or fantasy. Other writers, like Wole Soyinka, write because they are driven to make a statement about their culture or circumstances.
Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian writer whose plays, books, and poems capture his cultural traditions, are frequently autobiographical, and use language that is rich and visual. Let's take a closer look at his life and works.
Soyinka Gets His Start
Born in Nigeria in 1934, Wole Soyinka lived on a mission compound where he learned the Christian ways of his parents and the Yoruba ways of his paternal grandfather. The culture and language of the Yoruba is the basis for much of Soyinka's writing. These cultures played a large role in the work that would be the mainstay of his social and political voice.
He was educated in his primary years in the British system, and later at the University of Leeds, where he graduated with a degree in English. He was an excellent student, and became the editor of the school's magazine, The Eagle.
Soyinka Finds His Activist Voice
Soyinka spent some years in England working as a dramatist at the Royal Court Theater in London and wrote plays that opened to audiences in England and in Nigeria. In 1960, he returned to Nigeria, and taught drama and literature in universities in Lagos, Ibadan, and Ife.
He wrote, produced, and acted in plays and founded two theater groups, The 1960 Masks and Orisun Theatre Company. His voice grew stronger and stronger as he spoke out against the politics of Nigeria. He has worked as a visiting professor at universities around the world, including Yale, Cambridge, and Sheffield.
Soyinka's Political Activism
Soyinka was vocal about his dislike of Nigerian politics, and was willing to put it all on the line to fight oppression and tyranny. During the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960's, he was arrested and incarcerated for twenty-two months as a result of an article he wrote demanding a cease-fire.
While behind bars he wrote The Man Died: Prison Notes. It's a memoir about his time in solitary confinement, which was the direct result of his speaking out against Yakuba Gowon, the head of state at the time.
Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986; the first one given to an African. Shortly after, he was given the honorary title of Commander of the Federal Republic.
In 1996, during a period of self exile, he wrote The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis, which angered military government leader General Sani Abacha because it exposed his selfish, greedy practices.
While in exile, Wole Soyinka was convicted and given a death sentence for his anti-military activities. Only after Abacha died in 1998 and was replaced by a more forward thinking successor did Soyinka choose to return to Nigeria.
Justice, oppression, freedom, and social responsibility are all recurring themes in Soyinka's writing. He uses his writing as a vehicle for social change, with little or no concern for the impact it might have on his well being.
Writing for Social Justice
Soyinka's first novel, The Interpreters came out in 1965 and is a story seen through the eyes of recent university graduates who have come back to Nigeria to play a role in the evolution of a newly independent country. Soyinka's writing is sensitive and vivid. He captures the characters as they struggle to become a part of the new Nigeria.
In 1973 Soyinka wrote Season of Anomy, which was derived from experiences he had in prison. It introduces the use of vivid details and myth and offers an engaging, realistic look at ritual. The novel attempts to make sense of the upheaval that was the status quo and represents an attempt to achieve wholeness of community, something that was clearly lacking.
As a poet, Soyinka creates verses that are lyrical, visual, and often filled with African myth and ritual. The language is particularly visual in 'Post Mortem' where he says:
'in the cold hand of death...
his mouth was cotton filled, his man-pike
shrunk to sub-soil grub'
The reader can perhaps feel the pain, feel the terror painted by the words in these lines.
'Night' is filled with images that grab the reader with intense beauty. He begins the poem with:
'Your hand is heavy, Night, upon my brow.
I bear no heart mercuric like the clouds,
The last stanza of 'Abiku' (which means 'predestined to death') is strong and visual. The images created by Soyinka in this poem can be described as rich and beautiful.
'The ripest fruit was saddest
Where I crept, the warmth was cloying.
In silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping
Mounds from the yolk.'
Soyinka's poetry draws on his imprisonment, African myth, and his time exiled from the Africa he loves. With hundreds of titles to his credit, Soyinka's work represents his political and social attitudes and reflects the belief that there is evil inherent in power, and it is often abused.
Wole Soyinka was born in Nigeria in 1934. He was educated in the British system and graduated with a degree in English from the University of Leeds. His voice as a writer has affected change in the political and social outcomes of Nigeria. He has experienced isolation and exile for his outspoken attitudes, and was incarcerated for his writing.
Soyinka is a playwright, a novelist, and a poet. His books include a memoir called The Man Died: Prison Notes about his time in solitary confinement, and a novel called The Interpreters about university grads in a new Nigeria. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986; the first one awarded to an African. His poetry is filled with lyrical language and draws on his own experiences and African myth. He espouses the belief that evil resides in power, and his writing has themes of oppression, freedom, and social responsibility.
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