You Will Not Believe What Wole Soyinka Said When He Was Just 26 Years Old

In March 1961, Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, was aged 26 and he was already called the Bernard Shaw of Nigeria and the loudest voice in Nigeria’s intellectual circles. He was interviewed on his writing and this is what he said:

Soyinka when he was 26.

  • On the accusation that he writes only for intellectuals: I write to impart an experience. Boring an audience is a cardinal sin for a dramatist. My job is to make people think and feel.
  • On his most recent play at that time, A Dance of the Forests: I learnt that many people to whom the play made no sense took moral support from that that Doctor PhD or Lawyer LLB or Minister MHR could make no head or tail of it themselves. That is a mistake which is still common even in European theatre. Intellect! Whatever gives people the impression that the theatre is created for the intellectuals? There is, after all, something like the pores of the skin. That is where your intellect must desert you and your salvation entirely on your sensitivity.
  • On the alleged obscurity of A Dance of the Forests: It will give me a peculiar sense of pleasure, I’ll admit, if, as a dramatist, I set a riddle which gives my audience a headache, not only in the theatre but afterwards. The only thing is that I’ll insist that the attempt to solve the riddle be entirely the choice of my audience, not my enforcement. Some of the members of my audience have said that the play has no meaning. They are right. ‘Meaning’ is very often the same as moral; and nothing could be more obscene than that. The purpose of theatre is to impart an experience – often this is indefinable. Often, as scene follows scene, this is what goes on unconsciously in the author’s mind. But you don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that this is an arbitrary decision; it comes inevitably from the uncontrollable demands of the author’s theme.

As at that time, Soyinka had written five plays in total, apart from A Dance of the Forests, some of which were produced in the United Kingdom and he was also a research fellow sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. He said he was busy planning for the day he will make theatre art one of the permanent features of Nigerian life saying he was trying to form a group of young Nigerian men and women to achieve this goal.

Credits:

  1. Drum, March 1961, page 31.

 

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