In spite of frequent criticism of his obscure and difficult style, Wole Soyinka is generally regarded as a major literary figure in the contemporary world; by some he is considered to be the most sophisticated writer to emerge in Anglophone Africa. He has achieved success in the three major forms—poetry, fiction, and drama—and in the drama, for which he is best known, his range extends from broad farce and satire to tragedy. If he seems obscure, it is usually because of the density of the text: the constant reliance on imagistic and rhythmic expression and on the ever-present mythic and metaphysical dimension. An ambitious and experimental writer, he invites close textual analysis. His success as a dramatist extends to the practical arts of acting and directing. He has been the prime mover in the establishment of theater companies and the encouragement of the theatrical arts in Nigeria.
Behind all this literary activity lies Soyinka’s loyalty to traditional Yoruba culture. He has had the intellectual capacity to understand and adapt it to his own needs and to the needs of his country. This has, perhaps inevitably, led him into the political arena, since his primary concern for human freedom is based largely on the identity of Ogun, the dynamic god of Yoruba mythology. Ogun is not necessarily the god of all Nigerian society. Soyinka is one of those rare writers of genius whose productions appeal both to the professional critic and to the general public. Soyinka’s social consciousness has given his works a moral force that has made him a leader among political activists in Africa. His plays are translated into French and have been produced in Africa’s Francophone countries. His influence on African theater has been tremendous, and the fear of Soyinka’s revolutionary themes has led at least one African country to ban his plays.
Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Other prizes include the Jock Campbell Award for Fiction in 1968, the John Whiting Drama Prize in 1966, and his first prize at the Dakar Negro Arts Festival in 1960.