As a playwright and poet, Soyinka developed his voice and vision during Nigeria’s most politically turbulent period, and he became the first black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1986. Throughout his career, Soyinka worked as both an artist and political activist, meshing the concerns of an emerging postcolonial Africa with authentic traditions and voices in Nigeria.
Soyinka’s political stance shifted continually between the classroom and the theater, while his work often focused on the political corruption surrounding the slow emergence of Nigerian democracy. Plays such as The Trials of Brother Jero (1960) and The Lion and the Jewel (1960) placed Soyinka in opposition to the first national government, and his work was frequently denied official support and funding. By 1965 heavy censorship was being imposed on his work, and he was arrested on dubious charges that were ultimately dismissed.
In 1967 Soyinka was appointed director of the school of drama at the University of Ibadan, where he wrote against the government until he was arrested at the outbreak of the Biafra war in the same year. After his release in 1969, Soyinka left the country and produced a prison play, Madmen and Specialists (1970), and an autobiography, The Man Died (1972), both of which were blistering attacks on the Nigerian regime.
Though many of Soyinka’s works sold poorly in Nigeria, mainly due to suppression, he remained a major African voice, and his continual defiance of corruption, compromise, and censorship continued to make him a focus for democratic expression throughout the continent. He was particularly critical of the military rulers of his own country. In March, 1997, a little more than a year after the Nigerian government executed Ken Saro-Wiwa, it charged Soyinka with treason. Conviction would carry a death penalty, but Soyinka was living in exile.
Adelugba, Dapo, ed. Before Our Very Eyes: Tribute to Wole Soyinka. Ibadan, Nigeria: Spectrum, 1987. Collection of sixteen essays divided into two parts. The first part consists of ten personal tributes, and the second of six analytical essays. Brian Crow’s essay on Soyinka’s romanticism is particularly useful.
Banks, Thomas, and Judith Steininger. “Wole Soyinka.” In Critical Survey of Drama, edited by Carl Rollyson. 2d rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2003. A thorough overview of Soyinka’s life and career, emphasizing the plays.
Coger, Greta M. K. Index of Subjects, Proverbs, and Themes in the Writings of Wole Soyinka. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988. A valuable key to references and allusions in much of Soyinka’s work. The introduction is particularly useful for its brief discussion of connections between works, for its descriptions of topics of interest to Soyinka, and for its commentary on Soyinka’s use of Yoruba proverbs and rituals.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., ed. In the House of Oshugbo: Critical Essays on Wole Soyinka. London: Oxford University Press, 2002. Large collection of essays that includes analyses of individual plays, biographical information, comparative studies involving contemporary writers such as Bertolt Brecht and James Joyce, and discussions of literary theory, the art of writing, and Yoruba culture.
Gibbs, James. Wole Soyinka. London: Macmillan, 1986. Part of the Macmillan Modern Dramatists series, this is a very detailed source that follows Soyinka’s career from his earliest plays. Contains some good biographical information, illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
Gibbs, James, ed. Critical Perspectives on Wole Soyinka. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1980. Contains introductory essays by Bernth Lindfors and Abiola Irele; fifteen essays on individual plays and such subjects as popular theater, tragedy, Third World drama, and dramatic theory. Other essays cover Soyinka’s poetry and prose.
Jeyifo, Biodun, ed. Conversations with Wole Soyinka. Jackson:...
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