The honorable Wole Soyinka was born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka in a town called Ijebu Isara, close to Abeokuta in Western
Nigeria on July 13, 1934, and the second of six children of Samuel Ayodele Soyinka and Grace Eniola Soyinka. Soyinka
prefers to be referred to as Wole Soyinka, a name he is well known internationally.
His Father was a headmaster of the afluent St. Peters
School in Ake Abeokuta where they lived and a canon in the Anglican Church.
His mother who was a devout christian also owned a shop in the nearby market and was admired as a female political activist
in her local community. Certainly this gives us a foreshadow into the career path and writings that Soyinka
would undertake as an adult.
Luckily for Soyinka, his parents balanced the colonial English-speaking environment that was present at the time in
Ake where he grew up with regular visits to his father's ancestral home in Isara his birth place. Soyinka even proceeded and wrote
a book about his childhood life in Ake called Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981) as well as in Isara.
the University of Ibadan from 1952-54
before earning a BA in English from the University of Leeds. From 1957 to 1959, he served as a script-reader, actor and director at the Royal Court Theatre,
London, and while there, developed three experimental pieces
with a company of actors he had brought together.
writers have traditionally viewed English, French, and other European languages as the tongue of the colonial power, the tool
of stigma and imperialism, Soyinka made the decision to write in English in order to gain access to an international audience.
In 1960, Soyinka
returned to Nigeria and founded the 1960 Masks, a theatre company that would present his first major play, A Dance of the
Forests, in which the spirit world and the living world clash over the future of a half-born child. Although A Dance
of the Forests exhibits a fairly serious tone, much of Soyinka's early work satirized the absurdities of his society with
a gently humorous and affectionate spirit.
As the struggle
for independence in his country turned sour, however, Soyinka's work began to take on a darker tone. In October of 1965, Soyinka was arrested for allegedly seizing the
Western Region radio studios and making a political broadcast disputing the published results of the recent elections. In
December of that same year, he was acquitted. He then served as director of the Drama School of Ibadan University in Nigeria until 1967, when he was arrested for writings sympathetic to secessionist Biafra. This time, he was imprisoned for twenty-two months.
and Specialists which was written shortly after his release from prison in 1970, Soyinka's protest grew much more powerful,
perhaps as much a tribute to the playwright's suffering as to his growth as an artist. Madmen and Specialists dramatizes
what the NEW YORK TIMES calls, "a police state in which only madmen and spies can survive, in which the losers are mad and
the winners are paranoid about the possibility of another rebellion." In another powerful piece, Death and the King's Horseman
(1975), the Elesin--chief minister to the dead King--fails to properly exercise his act of ritual suicide, thus jeopardizing
the delicate and mystical balance between the dead, the living, and the unborn.
as head of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan
(1969-72) and head of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University
of Ife (1975-85). In 1978, Soyinka founded another theatre company, the
Unife Guerilla Theatre. Based out of the University of Ife, this company presented plays and sketches in parks, markets, and on street corners,
attacking corruption and political oppression.
plays include Kongi's Harvest (1967), The Lion and the Jewel (1964), The Trials of Brother Jero (1964),
The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), Opera Wonyosi (1977), A Play of Giants (1985), Requiem for a Futurologist
(1985) and Beautification of Area Boy (1994). He is also known for his novels, autobiographical works, poetry, and
criticism, and in 1986, he became the first African writer ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.