Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka popularly known as Wole Soyinka is a famous Nigerian playwright, poet and essayist. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African to be honored in that category. He was born on 13th July 1934 in Abeokuta, Ogun State in the south western part of Nigeria. He is currently 84 years old.
Wole Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta. He was born as the second child in a family of six children, in the city of Abeokuta, Ogun State in the south western part of Nigeria, at the time of British colonial rule. His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, was an Anglican minister and the headmaster of St. Peters School in Abẹokuta while his mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, owned a shop in the nearby market in Abeokuta. She was a political activist within the women’s movement in the local community and was also an Anglican.
Wole Soyinka grew up in a religious atmosphere of syncretism, with influences from both cultures. He was raised in a religious family, attending church services and singing in the church choir from an early age.
Wole Soyinka attended St. Peter’s Primary School in Abeokuta, Ogun State in the south western part of Nigeria. In 1940, Wole Soyinka completed his primary school education at Abeokuta Grammar School and obtained his First School Leaving Certificate. While in Abeokuta Grammar School, Wole Soyinka won several prizes for literary composition.
After completing his primary school education, in 1946, Wole Soyinka got admitted into Government College in Ibadan, Oyo State in the south western part of Nigeria and obtained his West African Senior School Certificate in 1952.
After completing his secondary school education, Wole Soyinka proceeded to University College Ibadan (now known as University of Ibadan), which was affiliated with the University of London. While at University College Ibadan, Wole Soyinka studied English Literature, Greek and Western History and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1954.
While at the university, Wole Soyinka and six others of his friend founded the Pyrates Confraternity, an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organization, which happens to be the first confraternity in Nigeria
After graduating from the university in 1954, Wole Soyinka relocated to England in the United Kingdom, where he continued his studies in English Literature and under the supervision of his mentor Wilson Knight at the University of Leeds in England. After which he graduated in 1957 with a Master’s Degree in English Literature.
While studying in England, he met numerous young gifted British writers. Before defending his degree, Wole Soyinka began publishing and working as an editor for the satirical magazine “The Eagle”. He wrote a column on academic life, often criticizing his university peers.
After studying in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, Wole Soyinka worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London, United Kingdom. He went on to write plays that were produced in theatres and on radio both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. He took an active role in Nigeria’s political history and its struggle for independence from Great Britain.
In 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. In 1967 during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the federal government of Nigeria which was then headed by a military head of state General Yakubu Gowon. After his arrest, he was put in solitary confinement for two years.
Wole Soyinka has been a strong critic of successive Nigerian governments, especially the country’s many military dictators, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regimes in Zimbabwe. Wole Soyinka has focused most of his writing on “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the color of the foot that wears it”.
During the military regime of General Sani Abacha from 1993 to 1998, Wole Soyinka escaped from Nigeria on a motorcycle via the “NADECO Route.” General Sani Abacha later proclaimed a death sentence against him “in absentia”. After the restoration of civilian rule and democracy in Nigeria in 1999, Wole Soyinka returned back to Nigeria.
While in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka was a Professor of Comparative Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Osun State in the south western part of Nigeria. After the civilian rule was restored in Nigeria in 1999, Wole Soyinka was made professor emeritus. While in the United States of America, Wole Soyinka first taught at Cornell University as Goldwin Smith Professor for African Studies and Theatre Arts from 1988 to 1991. After which he taught at Emory University in the United States of America. In 1996, he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts.
Wole Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas in the United States of America and has served as scholar-in-residence at NYU’s University in Los Angeles, California in the United States of America. He has also taught at Oxford University in London, Harvard University in United States and Yale University in United States.
In December 2017, he was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in the “Special Prize” category, an award which is given to someone who has contributed to the realization of cultural events that promotes understanding and the exchange of knowledge between peoples.
Wole 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 named “Olaokun”. His second marriage was in 1963 to Nigerian librarian named Olaide Idowu, with whom he had three daughters with namely; Moremi, Iyetade (deceased), Peyibomi, and a second son, Ilemakin. In 1989, Wole Soyinka finally got married to Folake Doherty and the marriage is currently blessed with lovely children.
Wole Soyinka is currently one of the richest and most influential personality and public figure in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $1 million.