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Wed, 10.08.1986

The First Black Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Wole Soyinka

On this date in 1986, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Wole Soyinka. Soyinka is perhaps Africa’s most versatile and eclectic intellectual--a playwright, poet, novelist, and literary and social critic. He has authored over 40 works.

His plays, the core of Soyinka’s creative work, range from satirical political commentary in such works as "Kongi’s Harvest," "Madmen and Specialists," and the "Brother Jero" plays, to the tragic cadences of "Death and the King’s Horseman." and "The Strong Breed." In them, he draws upon Yoruba myth and ceremonies, incantatory poetry, dance, and music to connect the historical with the metaphysical, the timeless realm which unites the living, the dead, and the unborn.

The problems of Africa, particularly the failures of authoritarian politicians and military dictators, have concerned Soyinka throughout his career. He was imprisoned in 1967-69 for allegedly conspiring to aid the attempted secession of Biafra from Nigeria. In recent years, Soyinka has been very active in the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria; his 1996 work, "Open Sore of a Continent," provides a trenchant commentary on crises in leadership.

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