Wole Soyinka was born in 1934, in Abeokuta, Nigeria, at the time when this area of western Africa was still a British Protectorate. He began studying in the nearby Ibadan, where a local university had been established (1948) as a hub of counter-colonial emancipation potential and stabilisation factor for the local variety of English as a cultural and literary expression. During his upcoming residency in Leeds, when his early drama works drew attention to his talent, Soyinka also used English as a link between his own Yoruba tradition and the art of the western canon. Belonging to a large Yoruba people, influential in Nigeria and present thanks to new post-colonial demarcations in neighbouring countries as well, since he was invited to return to his country in the early 1960s to this summer when he again took a powerful stand for new values, Soyinka has been advocating for unity in understanding the aesthetic and historical dimension of existence in art practices, civil engagement and commitment to better society in general. The Nobel Committee adhered to this, explaining the first ever Nobel Prize for Literature presented to an African writer (1986) with a statement about “a cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”. Acquiring thus global attention and acknowledgment, back home he was soon exposed to regime repression, causing his temporary emigration following the hanging of his friend, writer Ken Saro Wiwa (1995). Preserving the dialogue of worlds in his plays and novels, and in particular in his journals and memoirs (You Must Set Forth at Dawn, 2006), Soyinka arrives in Pula as a torchbearer of what is now a great subject – the post-colonial tradition he himself analyses as a professor at prestigious universities (Myth, Literature and the African World, 1976) and relentlessly represents on the margins where he began his journey.
(Photo © Paul Glenn Gratty)