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Who is Soyinka?

Who is Wole Soyinka
His World Was and Now
Poem Patterns
Poems & Analysis
Early Poems
Like Tupac & Fela Kuti
Related Links
What His Critics Are Saying
Literary Theories View Point
Had Me Spinning
Works Cited
Contact Me

His Early Beginnings

Who is he?

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.

Soyinka attended 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.

Although African 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.

In Madmen 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.

Soyinka served 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.

Soyinka's other 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.



1934: Born Akinwande Oluwole

1938-1943 Attends St. Peter's School, Ake, Abeokuta

1944-1945 Attends Abeokuta Grammar School

1946-1950 Attends Government College Ibadan

1952-1954 Attends University College, Ibadan

1954-1957 Attends University of Leeds, England B.A (honors) degree in English

1955 THE INVENTION - play

1959 He received a Rockefeller research grant and returned to Nigeria.; THE LION AND THE JEWEL - play

1960 A DANCE OF THE FORESTS, THE TRIALS OF BROTHER JERO - plays; He became coeditor of BLACK ORPHEUS, a literary journal.

1963 THE STRONG BREED - play


1967 IDANRE AND OTHER POEMS - poetry; He was put in prison.

1969 He was released from prison.; POEMS FROM PRISON - poetry


1972 A SHUTTLE IN THE CRYPT - poetry; He became a professor of comparative literature at Ife.; JERO'S METAMORPHOSIS - play; THE MAN DIED: PRISON NOTES OF WOLE SOYINKA - autobiographical work

1973 SEASON OF ANOMY - novel; He received his Ph.D. from Leeds University in England.


1976 MYTH, LITERATURE, AND THE AFRICAN WORLD -literary criticism

1981 AKE: THE YEARS OF CHILDHOOD - autobiographical work

1986 He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

1988 MANDELA'S EARTH AND OTHER POEMS - poetry; He became professor of African studies and theatre at Cornell University.; ART, DIALOGUE & OUTRAGE - literary criticism

1989 ISARA: A VOYAGE AROUND ESSAY - autobiographical work

1991 THE CREDO OF BEING AND NOTHINGNESS - essay collection

1992 FROM ZIA, WITH LOVE - play

1994 IBADAN, THE PENKELEMES YEARS, A MEMOIR: 1946-1965 - autobiographical work; He went into exile from Nigeria.

1996 THE OPEN SORE OF A CONTINENT - social criticism

1997 A death sentence was pronounced on him by Nigerian dictator, General Sani Abacha.

1998 The charges of treason against him were dropped by Nigeria's new leader, Abdulsalam Abubakar.




Artist-Poet-Activist-Dramatist-Author-NobelPrize Winner