WOLE SOYINKA, Nigeria’s First Nobel Laureate



A copy of his book with his signature for sale on eBay.
A copy of his book with his signature for sale on eBay for $250.

-Soyinquotes? Well, I coined that….lol! (means Soyinka’s quotes).

-I don’t think of quotes, (laughter) it’s other people who sort of pick something out of what I’m saying; I don’t set about making quotes, you can forget that (laughter). So if you’re looking for a quote from me, sorry. I don’t manufacture them. It’s like me too; somebody says something, it strikes me and I use it and attribute it to the person, I acknowledge it. Maybe there are people who deliberately want to say something clever, but me, I speak naturally. I use language whether in Yoruba or in English and something might strike someone. So don’t look for quotes from me (laughter).-WS


-The so called – because I hate that word Nollywood – Nollywood culture has taken over the hunger for books, I don’t notice that hunger any more. It has to do with the decay. We used to have public libraries, public libraries have gone to pot. He also describes Nollywood as “appalling and unoriginal.”He also ‘thoroughly detests the Big Brother Africa show.’

The young rebel.
The young rebel.

-Although Soyinka made rich use of proverbs in many of his works, The Trials of Brother Jerocontained just one proverb (when Brother Jero says of the different types of prophets: ‘There are eggs, and there are eggs.’). Interestingly, Kongi’s Harvest is full of proverbs.

-He was the Master of Ceremonies (MC) at Nigeria’s Independence Celebration Ball, and when an opera singer flown in by Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Governor-General, wanted to kill the audience with boredom, Soyinka virtually ‘chased’ the artiste off the stage.

-I am a glutton for tranquility. -WS.

  • I come out alive best in the theatre, that means even when I enter an empty theatre physically doing nothing. There is something about the theatre that makes me tingle. Maybe it’s because I came from an environment that is rich in theatrical traditions. I really don’t see myself as a novelist. My first novel,The Interpreters came as a result of frustration. My being a novelist came purely by accident.

    -I never really felt at home anywhere, except at home, in Abeokuta. -WS
    -“It is sometimes problematic to be Prof. Wole Soyinka. Be yourselves don’t try to be like me.“

    -“As a child I was a voracious reader, I was fascinated with the written word.”-WS

    -”Books and all forms of writing have always been objects of terror to those who seek to suppress the truth.”–Wole Soyinka,The Man Died: The Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka

    -The lack of African historians made the western world feel the continent wasn’t civilised.” -WS

    -What has been the most exciting moment of your professional career?

  • Wole Soyinka: Most exciting moment? I assure you it was not the Nobel thing. Maybe people think a prize like that should count, but no, not at all. I would say, if I directed a play on stage, and I see the excited face of my company, when they really feel they’ve pulled off something, and I’ve also got the same vibrations from the audience. I think that’s when I really feel very fulfilled.

-How do you define truth? Wole Soyinka: When I encounter that kind of question, I take refuge in the expression of Tierno Bokar, a philosopher from Mali, who was known as the sage of Bandiagara. And he used to say that there are three kinds of truth. There’s your truth, and there is my truth, and there is the truth. And then I take that one stage further, and I say possibly there is a fourth, and that there is no truth.

-Have you ever had doubts about your abilities? Do you worry about failure? Wole Soyinka: I don’t think I ever doubted my ability, for the simple reason that if I’m doing something, if I’m working on something and it’s not working out, then I just leave it alone and can do other things.
-He said he’d also love to be an architect and calls himself a ‘failed musician.’

-What advice or encouragement would you give to your grandchildren? What would you like to leave behind as a verbal footprint? Wole Soyinka: That question comes up again and again, and I say that I don’t really know. I think it’s up to people to decide what they want to extract from what I’ve done, or left undone. But the advice I always give to my young children, or to young writers, or those who want to be activists in some way, who come to me and say, “What shall we do about this situation? How can we contribute?” I just say, “Follow your instincts.” Don’t feel you have to follow the paths of others, because you may not be temperamentally fitted for it. And so you’ll just harm yourself and your cause and others. But just follow your instinct, and don’t ever pretend to be what you’re not.

-I consider the process of gestation just as important as when you’re actually sitting down putting words to the paper. -WS.

-A gathering of laureates: from left, Nadine Gordimer (1991 winner), Derek Walcott (1992), Wole Soyinka and Toni Morrison (1993 Nobelist and first black woman to receive the prize) at a birthday celebration for Mr. Soyinka. I tell you, birds of a feather congregate within the same proximity.
-A gathering of laureates: from left, Nadine Gordimer (1991 winner), Derek Walcott (1992), Wole Soyinka and Toni Morrison (1993 Nobelist and first black woman to receive the prize) at a birthday celebration for Mr. Soyinka. I tell you, birds of a feather congregate within the same proximity.

-He enjoys plain Italian pasta spiced up with red pepper. He does not like water but prefers beverages and is a specialist when it comes to whiskeys, wines (he’s a wine connoisseur) and espressos (you can hook him up at a Starbucks….lmao!). At one of his birthdays, fellow Laureate, Toni Morrison gave him a hug and presented to him a bottle of 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin Burgundy. He called the wine ‘superlative’ and kept turning the bottle ‘over and over in his hands’, like another Nobel Prize.

-You are first and foremost a writer, but you also are active in politics, social justice and human rights. How do you balance your private and creative life with your life that is public and politically active? I don’t attempt a balance. Everything I do is controlled by my creative urge. In other words, if I am not at peace with my outside environment, I find it very difficult to concentrate on my creative urge.

-In July 2004, when he turned 70, Charly Boy and others organized a ceremony for him at a hotel in Lagos where eighteen girls were to give him a peck on the cheek. It was quite a funny scenario, especially as his wife watched the whole scene. That said, Prof is a very accommodating individual (and generous to the extent that many parasite on him). By the way, who would turn down delicious pecks from eighteen olomoges? LOL!

-He is very glad with the current generation of young writers in Africa although he says most are females beating the the ‘living hell’ out of the men.

-Wole Soyinka is by no means a poor man. His Nobel Prize for Literature which he won in 1986 is worth $1.2 million today (that’s close to N200 million) and many institutions across the globe will be glad to pay him all he wants to be a guest lecturer. Add all the royalties from his best-selling books to the picture and you get the idea (although he says writing did not really bring in much money for him like many would want to believe). But when you think of Nigerian millionaires, this erudite professor does not readily come to mind, and that’s because he lives simply. No noisemaking convoys like some olodo Ogas at the top, no armed escorts up and down and no ostentatious display of wealth -always simply dressed.

-TIME Magazine: Nigeria is an incredibly rich country, sitting on a lot of oil, and yet it has lived through a succession of dictators. Soyinka: All kinds of hyenas want to get their teeth into that rotten meat. There is no getting away from that. It’s a licorice that these power children really cannot stop themselves licking. I am convinced that Nigeria would have been a more highly developed country without the oil. I wished we’d never smelled the fumes of petroleum.
-TIME Magazine: The World Cup is playing right now here in Berlin. Are you going to a match? Soyinka: Most certainly not. I like my peace and quiet whenever I can grab it.

-In one of his writings, ‘Our Letter from London’, he described himself as ‘large-nosed’. Soyinka was thinking he had won the heart of white lady staring at him until she replied the she was ‘wondering how many average-sized noses could be made out of his.’

-A talented writer, Soyinka wrote The Trials of Brother Jero, in just 72 hours upon the request of the revered lecturer and theatre director, Dapo Adelugba.

-An accomplished hunter, he loves solitary hunting in the forests, gunning down ‘whatever can be eaten, not for trophies.’ He once said he does not normally wear hats, unless when hunting. While sneaking out of Nigeria to Benin through forests, he was disguised as a hunter, wearing a hat. He said ‘The hunter had become the hunted.’ He would later donate that hat, and one other one (which he took with him to the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden but he had to hold it since it would not stay on his head. The interior was blackened as he had to dye his hair to escape Abacha’s (READ ALL ABOUT GENERAL SANI ABACHA HERE>>>http://abiyamo.com/sani-abacha-nigerias-most-enigmatic-ruler/) goons trailing him worldwide) to the Nobel Museum (he called his donations PERIPETEIA). Omo, those hats must be megabig o…lol!

-He refers to ‘Madmen and Specialists’ as his most pessimistic work.

-Soyinka is capable of photographic (or eidetic) memory. When he came out of prison, and misplaced some of his prison notes, he was able to recall three chapters, line for line and word for word. When he later found the notes and compared, it was like a photocopy.

And I took an interest in particular in one young man who had been brutalized by the military at a social occasion, to the extent that he had to have an amputation. I was following that case and working with others inside, within Nigeria, to make sure that he got his dues, the people involved were punished. One of them was a governor of one of these regions. And then I got a telegram one day which said, “The man died. He died from his wounds.” And so I used that expression as the title, the title of the book.

“The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” -WS, The Man Died.

-I am a disciple of Ogun, the Yoruba god of lyrics, war, iron, conflict and war. -WS

-You never know how much you need companionship when you are deprived of it for a lengthy period even though you are normally desperate for your solitude. -WS, on his solitary confinement.

-He later wrote poems making fun of poets who took over radio stations. #Hilarious!

-In 2001, while speaking to journalists at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, he bashed the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for ripping off Africans at the expense of the economies of the superpowers. An indefatigable sombori, he was just arriving for the 21st Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) from a bi-annual conference on Dialogue and Civilization in New York. Later, he visited the site of the 1998 bomb blast at the US Embassy in Nairobi in which over 200 people were killed. He would also later accuse the West of stifling other civilizations and destroying other nations.

-’I always have one advice: be yourself. Role models, yeah, they’re useful things but are not the whole thing. I believe that in every human being, there is a center, a core, and that core must be reached. I don’t believe in artificiality.’

-Countries visited: Norway, Kenya, Cuba, Czech Republic, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Canada, United States, Ghana, Tunisia, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands (Holland), Sweden, Germany, India (where excited school kids chased him for autographs at the 5thDSC Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2010), Uganda, South Korea, Palestine, Rwanda, St. Lucia, Italy, Indonesia (warmly received as the 2nd Nobel Laureate to have ever visited the country), Singapore, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Jamaica (where he worked with and assisted the innercity kids) andTaiwan (where he met with President Chen Shui-bian).

-He initially planned to retire at 49. But obviously, that’s impossible…lol!

-One day, he stopped on the streets of New York to pacify a couple fighting. But the couple, particularly the woman told him to stay off. If the man had a gun, WS could have been killed. Soyinka described the event as ‘one of the stupidest I ever did.’

-In 2005, he was denied entry into South Africa after waiting for eight hours (that was not his first visit). He was invited to deliver a lecture in Mandela’s honour & was not able to get a visa in Nigeria but the organizers told him to travel, and that a visa would be waiting for him at the airport. It was not to be. It was not until Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel intervened that he was granted entry. Soyinka was already looking to leave with the next available flight until an immigration officer came running after him. Mandela’s wife saved the day. (Sha remember your MTN and DSTV before you start cursing SA under your breath…buhehehe!)

-In 1960, Soyinka became the first person to write a play produced on Nigerian television. At a quarter to 9 pm on the 6th of August 1960, a full-length play titled ‘My Father’s Burden’ was produced in the studios of the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), the first television station in West Africa.

-’For me, justice is the first condition of humanity.’ -Wole Soyinka, The Man Died.

-He has been described as a large-hearted teacher and a tutor that was fun to be with. Narrating his experience as a student of Soyinka, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, there was a day at the University of Ife, he and other students were at Soyinka’s house for a lesson. Soyinka’s fridge was known to be always stocked with chilled beer and finest wines. While other students were serious with study, Uzoatu enjoyed himself in a corner, sipping cold, frothy beer. The professor was aghast upon discovering Uzoatu ‘chopping the life of his head’ while others were learning. He demanded the reason for his action, to which Uzoatu promptly responded: ‘Well, Sir, beer is how I get my own inspiration!’. The Laureate had a hearty laugh and went back to teaching the more serious students. Uzoatu noted that if he had tried that same randanrandan with another lecturer, that would have been the end of his adventure at Great Ife.
-At his Agip Lectures in 1985, Soyinka described this generation as ‘the wasted generation.’

-When he appeared before a televised human rights committee in 2001, a lawyer begged him to ‘use simple English that we can understand.’

-Muhammad Ali, by the way, is one of my favorite heroes, if I may use that expression -which is always a dangerous one. -WS

-He once said that after the Nobel, he won’t accept any other honour and would go on to chose Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia as the only American institution from which he would accept an honorary degree. But the torrent of awards was just too much for his resistance.

-According to writer and critic, Bernth Lindfors, who traced Soyinka’s first poem back to his days at the University of Ibadan, the poem was a very poor piece. It was titled Thunder To Storm, and it had 98 lines. It was published in the University Voice, the official publication of the Students’ Union in January 1953. LOL!

-He co-founded with people like Femi Euba, the 1960 Masks, a group that saw to the resurgence of theatre in post-independence Nigeria. -In 1976, he wrote his longest poem, Ogun Abibiman in honour of the late Samora Machel of Mozambique who fought against apartheid South Africa.

-Atimes in public, he had to wear large hats to disguise and remain anonymous. He says: ‘I was already notorious before the Nobel, but my constituency enlarged. Being the first black Nobel Laureate, and the first African, the African world considered me personal property. I lost the remaining shreds of my anonymity, even to walk a few yards in London, Paris or Frankfurt without being stopped. It was, and is, hell’. #OkayProf, how about cutting the hair? LOL!

-’I like to say, I spend one-third of my time in Nigeria, one-third in Europe or America and one-third on a plane.’

-I believe implicitly that any work of art which opens out the horizons of the human mind, the human intellect, is by its very nature a force for change, a medium for change. -Wole Soyinka.
-Some see Soyinka’s absolute self confidence as arrogance and pomposity but he does not lose sleep over his numerous critics.

-On exactly what brought him to the career path of a writer, Soyinka says that he cannot state precisely. He says: ‘My father used to tell me stories before I fell asleep. When the children would gather, at a certain point, I had a tendency to make up my own elementary versions on stories I had heard, or to invent totally new ones.’  That reminds Abiyamo sef: how many of you parents still tell stories to your children? Raise up your hand if you are one. You see? Nobody.

-In January 2013, he took samples of the Osun River for worshippers in Brazi (see pictures below)l: “I am taking Osun Osogbo water sample to Brazil to the Osun worshippers. We have a lot of black people there and many of them are devotees of Osun, Sango, Obatala, Ogun, Yemoja and other deities. When I visited the worshippers in Brazil, I found out that they have preserved Yoruba culture, from the liturgies to some of the prayers and even the processions of the devotees. I saw the Iyalorisa of Osun. I saw a bowl of water, which was symbolic of Osun River and I promise them that I would bring them the actual water from Osun.”


Wole Soyinka scooping up water of the Osun River in 2013. He plans to take the bottled water to Osun worshippers in Brazil. At that age, I really wonder where he gets all the energy from.
Wole Soyinka scooping up water of the Osun River in 2013. He plans to take the bottled water to Osun worshippers in Brazil. At that age, I really wonder where he gets all the energy from.

-Wole Soyinka is known for self-deprecating humour, like Mandela. He once said of himself: ‘When I say this, people laugh but basically, I’m a lazy person. I would rather not be doing anything. My instinct is to sit down and do what I love best, which is just listening to music.’ Music? Now, your eyes light up and you ask me what type of music the Laureate loves? Well, he is a big fan of Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis. He is also very much into classical and folk music. Why you dey frown face now? What were you expecting bifor? Dbanj’s Bachelor or Timaya’s Plantain Boy? Park well joor. Then he chips in: ‘But I suppose there is this creative demon which pushes me in all these various directions.’

-In March 2013, Soyinka was devastated with the news of Achebe’s death. He and JP Clark wrote: ‘For us, the loss of Chinua Achebe is, above all else, intensely personal. We have lost a brother, a colleague, a trailblazer and a doughty fighter. Of the “pioneer quartet” of contemporary Nigerian literature, two voices have been silenced – one, of the poet Christopher Okigbo, and now, the novelist Chinua Achebe.’ On Achebe’s 70th birthday, Soyinka wrote and dedicated a long poem Elegy for a Nation to his great friend and literary brother. He also graced the event with his presence. Both had tremendous mutual respect for each other and exchanged support when it mattered most. Surely, Nigeria is blessed to have gifted writers of this caliber, and the loss of anyone of them is a monumental tragedy.















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