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Wole Soyinka, a talented, ingenious Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and lecturer, was born on this date in 1934.
Originally named Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, Wole studied at the University College of Ibadan and graduated from the University of Leeds in Britain in 1958. He then returned to Nigeria, where he established the 1960 Masks Drama Troupe (later the Orisun Theatre) and produced his own plays and works of other African playwrights. Soyinka's writings describe tribal myths and traditions while employing Western literary forms. During the Nigerian civil war, he was arrested by the government and held in solitary confinement for two years. A collection of his verse, "Poems from Prison" (1969), republished as "A Shuttle in the Crypt" (1972), and the prose work "The Man Died" (1972) were inspired during and after his incarceration. Soyinka often wrote about the need for individual freedom.
His plays include "A Dance of the Forests" (1960), "Kongi’s Harvest" (1965), "Death and the King’s Horseman" (1975), "A Play of Giants" (1984), and "From Zia, with Love" (1992). His other writings include the novels "The Interpreters" (1965) and "Season of Anomy" (1973). His poetry collections include "Idanre" (1967) and "Mandela’s Earth" (1988), and his works of criticism, "Myth, Literature, and the African World" (1976); the autobiographical works "Ake: The Years of Childhood" (1981) and "Isara" (1989); and the essay collection "The Credo of Being and Nothingness" (1991).
In 1986, Soyinka became both the first African writer and the first Black writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Soyinka went into exile in 1994, following the cancellation of Nigeria’s 1993 democratic elections and the assumption of power by a military dictatorship. In 1997, Nigeria’s regime charged Soyinka with treason. The next year those charges were lifted and he returned home in October of 1998.
Soyinka has been married three times and divorced twice. He has children from his three marriages. His first marriage was in 1958 to the late British writer, Barbara Dixon, whom he met at the University of Leeds in the 1950s. Barbara was the mother of his first son, Olaokun. His second marriage was in 1963 to Nigerian Librarian Olaide Idowu, with whom he had three daughters, Moremi, Iyetade, Peyibomi, and a second son, Ilemakin. Soyinka married Folake Doherty in 1989.
In 2014, he revealed his battle with prostate cancer. In December 2017, he was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in the "Special Prize" category awarded to someone who has “contributed to the realization of cultural events that promote understanding and the exchange of knowledge between peoples”.
The World Book Encyclopedia.
Copyright 1996, World Book, Inc.