Life and works of Wole Soyinka (1934) Nigerian Writer

wole soyinka
Categories : World Literature
Wole Soyinka (b. 1934)
Wole Soyinka (b. 1934)

Wole Soyinka (b. 1934)

• Nigerian writer, notable especially as a playwright and poet
• The first person in Africa to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1986)
• Born in 1934 into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta, south-west Nigeria
• Studied in Nigeria and the UK; wrote plays and worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London
• Took an active role in Nigeria’s political history and its struggle for freedom from Great Britain

Exile and Return
• Has criticized many Nigerian military dictators, like late General Sanni Abacha and Mugabe
• Escaped from Nigeria during the regime of Sani Abacha (1993-98); who proclaimed a death
sentence against him
• Lived abroad, mainly in the US; returned to Nigeria when civilian rule was restored in 1999
• Has taught in several universities including Oxford, Harvard, University of Nevada, Yale and Obafemi
Awolowo University

Major Plays

The Swamp Dwellers (1958)
• The Lion and the Jewel (1959)
• A Dance of the Forests (1960)
• The Strong Breed (1964)
• The Road (1965)
• Madmen and Specialists (1970)
• Death and the King’s Horseman (1975)


• The Interpreters (1964)
– The main characters are university graduates, who have studied and travelled abroad and have just
returned to Nigeria when it got independence – These interpreters of the new Nigeria are trying to
chart their path in the new political structure in a society dominated by confusion and corruption
• Season of Anomy (1972)

Poetry Collections
• Idanre and Other Poems (1967) – A series of mythological poems that feature Yoruba terminology and display subtle manipulations of words, images, and idioms
• Myth, Literature and the African World (1976)
• Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988)
• Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known (2002)

• Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture (1988)
• From Drama and the African World View (1976)

Major Poems
• A Telephone Conversation
• Three White Hairs

“Telephone Conversation”  poem


The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey–I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was foully.
“HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?” Button B, Button A.* Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis–
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
“You mean–like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. “West African sepia”–and as afterthought,
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding
“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but, madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blond. Friction, caused–
Foolishly, madam–by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black–One moment, madam!”–sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears–“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”

* Buttons to be pressed by caller who has inserted a coin into an old type of British public pay phone.

poem other source:

read also Ngugi wa Thiong’o : Nigerian Writer, African English Literature – An overview of Great Tradition


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