Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Wole Soyinka Symposia at SIU/Carbondale—Muse & Mimesis: Wole Soyinka, Africa, and the World

Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka

So here I am at the Wole Soyinka Symposia at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, about as happy as a girl can be and still remain in her skin! The brainpower in this auditorium hooked up to electrical generators could solve the world energy problems and light up every nation around the world. Yes, the people here speaking on the platform and listening in the audience are that bright.

At the break Fatima from Kano (studying Public Health, but interested in poetry and literature) and I lean our heads together and whisper our confession that we simply allow the words and phrases to waft in and out of our being, intoxicating us, not forcing our brains to follow in a linear fashion for fear that would crack our heads open.

Yes, the feeling is resplendent with a calling down of the spirits. The Orishas of the Nigerian pantheon are here as surely as we are. It is, as Robert Fox said of another encounter "As if Shango had arranged the encounter because there was intellectual lighening everywhere."

In the lobby I greet my first familiar face, Ron Himes (producing director of St. Louis Black Rep Theatre Company) and tell him how I appreciate the way all the elements of stagecraft in "Radio Golf" (the August Wilson play currently on their main stage at the Grandel Theatre) wholly supports the exquisite skills of the actors. [Read more about Ron and The Black Rep under the categories "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Performance Matters."] Ron reminds me he'll be staging Woyinka's "The Lion and the Jewel" at Washington University.

In the auditorium I greet my second familiar face, Obi Nkwanma, who brought Africa into my gathering room one day last week for several hours, and exchanged poetry books. The next day I called friends all over the country to read poems to them from "The Horsemen." He says in the lobby that "Sightlines" is a tribute of remembrance and he senses the closeness between my sister and myself...and how my father is the core everything revolves around. I am grateful, always, to be so well-read.

Marcel Okhaku, Senior Lecturer in Dramatic Theory and Media Arts, University Benin, Nigeria, sends me when he delivers the West African click at the end of our handshake. It's better than a roller-coaster ride, and a quicker trip to Africa and back than the Concorde. "Thanks for the click!" I say. He laughs, understanding, it seems, and says, "For nothing." When I recall the beauty of Benin when I traveled through there in the 1970s, he says it's changed, but yes, is still beautiful.

I learn that Western Illinois University (where I first went to college in 1967-68 before going on to Washington University for a semester...marriage...and getting my degrees at Southern Illinois University at Edwardville, then a commuter's school) now has an Africa Studies department! The world is turning, yes it is!

The keynote "Forget the Muse, think only of the subject?" is delivered by Biodun Jeyifo of Harvard with Robert Fox of Southern Illinois University as the respondent. This, is seems to me in this context, is like the call and response of traditional African music.

But, now....back to the conference to learn more about Muse and Mimesis!

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  1. Ah, one of the advantages of living in a University town... the opportunity to hear people like Biodun Jefiyo and Wole Soyinka in one day. I met Mr. Soyinka in the lobby in the morning and had an unusual attack of shyness. I think it was just generally overawe at his presence and aura.

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