Wole Soyinka is well known throughout Nigeria and the rest of the world as a brilliant playwright, poet and political activist. With more than 50 pieces of work, his writing includes novels, memoirs and a wide variety of essays. He is the first person in Africa to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and is respected for his willingness to speak out against repression and corruption. But beyond all of that, there are still many things you may not know about Wole Soyinka.
Though his father was an Anglican minister, Wole is an atheist
Wole’s father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, (whom he called S.A. or “Essay”) was an Anglican minister and headmaster of St. Peters School in Abẹokuta. His mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, owned a market shop, was active in the women’s movement in her community and also was a practicing Anglican. Wole, on the other hand, was an atheist. His beliefs contributed greatly to his writing.
Wole’s mother, Grace, was a member of the Ransome-Kuti family, known for its contributions to Nigerian art, religion, education, medicine and politics. His cousins include activists Beko Ransome-Kuti and Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, musician Fela Kuti, and Health Minister Olikoye Ransome-Kuti.
He helped found the first confraternity in Nigeria
While pursuing a degree in English literature, Greek, and Western history at University College in Ibadan, Wole helped found the Pyrates Confraternity with six others. It was built as an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organization, themes that would play into much of his later work.
Before he was famously arrested during the civil war in Nigeria, he was imprisoned in 1964 after being accused of making political radio broadcasts disputing published election results.
Despite imprisonment, Soyinka was wildly productive, writing and producing several plays
Some of Wole’s most famous works were written during his 22-month imprisonment. He smuggled in materials such as books, pens and paper. Much of his work at this time, unsurprisingly, was focused on criticizing the Nigerian government that was restricting his freedom.
Wole went into voluntary exile amid concerns over the political situation in Nigeria
After resigning from his professorial duties at the University of Ibadan in April 1971, he spent five years of voluntary exile in Europe. During this time, he worked as the editor of “Transition,” Nigeria’s leading intellectual journal.
He has been married to his third and current wife, Adefolake Soyinka, since 1989 and has three children with her (he also has children by his other wives). Adefolake is a former student of Wole’s.
He has never been afraid to criticize other nations or his own
Wole is well known for making contentious statements against other nations, including European nations where he lived in exile. It demonstrates his commitment to exposing injustice regardless of the location, and his willingness to make unpopular moves.
In Nigeria, he is considered a political activist first and a playwright second
Despite his amazing body of work, Wole’s long history of criticizing the Nigerian government and taking action against corruption are among his greatest legacies. He remains an influence on writers and activists in Nigeria and across the world.
He has been named Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
This is a Nigerian honor first established in 1964 people who served and benefited Nigeria. Soyinka was awarded in 1986, the same year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.