Wole Soyinka with his first daughter Moremi in 1963
He was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta and named, Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Babatunde Soyinka, he was given birth-to on the 13th of July 1934. He is a Nigerian playwright and poet. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African to be honored with such award.
In 1940, after attending St. Peters Primary School in Abeokuta, Soyinka went to Abẹokuta Grammar School, where he won several prizes for literary composition. In 1946 he was accepted by Government College in Ibadan, at that time one of Nigeria’s elite secondary schools.
After finishing his course at Government College in 1952, he began studies at University College in Ibadan (1952–54), affiliated with the University of London. He studied English literature, Greek, and Western history. In the year 1953–54, his second and last at University College, Ibadan, Soyinka began work on “Keffi’s
Birthday Treat”, a short radio play for Nigerian Broadcasting Service that was broadcast in July 1954. While at university, Soyinka and six others founded the Pyrates Confraternity, an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organisation, the first confraternity in Nigeria. Soyinka gives a detailed account of his early life
in his memoir Aké: The Years of Childhood.
Later in 1954, Soyinka relocated to England, where he continued his studies in English literature, under the supervision of his mentor Wilson Knight at the University of Leeds (1954–57). He met numerous young, gifted British writers. Before defending his B.A., Soyinka began publishing and worked as an editor for the satirical magazine The Eagle. He wrote a
column on academic life, often criticising his university peers.
After study 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 Nigeria’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”.
He flee from the country during the Abacha’s regime. Living abroad, mainly in the United States, he was a professor first at Cornell University and then at Emory University in Atlanta, where in 1996 he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. Abacha proclaimed a death sentence against him “in absentia”. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to the country.
He has also taught at the universities of Oxford, Harvard and Yale.
From 1975 to 1999, he was a Professor of Comparative Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ife. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, he was made professor emeritus. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
He currently resides in his home town at Abeokuta, Ogun state. He revealed in 2014, his battle with prostrate cancer.