Nobel Prize-winner Soyinka Comes to Southern Illinois and St. Louis

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka defies categories and boundaries: Scholar, poet, playwright, actor, human rights activist, Nobel Prize winner, former political prisoner.

Born in 1934 in western Nigeria. He studied at Government College in Ibadan. In 1973, he earned a doctorate from the University of Leeds. Dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1958 to 1959. He went back to Nigeria to study African drama, and taught at universities in Ibadan, Lagos and Ife. Since then, he has been a visiting professor at Cambridge, Sheffield and Yale universities. A prolific writer, poet and dramatist, Soyinka founded two theater companies, and has written more than 20 works so far. In 1986, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature at a time when, according to the Swedish Academy’s press release, he was “in his prime as an author.” His most recent publication is his 2006 autobiography, “You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir.”

In addition to living in a world of letters, Soyinka was directly involved in the political upheaval during the civil war in Nigeria. In 1967, he was arrested and held as a political prisoner for nearly two years because he advocated for a cease-fire. He spent several years in exile after his release. (Click here to read more about Soyinka in SIUC newsletter.)

I taught Wole Soyinka’s work in Ghana and in Botswana as set books for examinations my students would take that would mark the course of their lives. I love his work. To think that I will have a chance to hear him speak, and possibly to meet him, in my lifetime, fills me with joy!


A. February 28, 2008 Wole Soyinka visits Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) to share the story of his remarkable life during a free, public lecture beginning at 5 p.m. in SIUC Student Center Ballroom D. A reception follows.

Read All Africa report by clicking here.

Soyinka’s visit to SIUC coincides with the production of his play, “Death and the King’s Horseman,” first published in 1975, and a symposium focused on Wole Soyinka’s life and work. Segun Ojewuyi, assistant professor in the Department of Theater, directs the play.

The symposium begins February 28, with registration starting at 9 a.m. in the Student Center Auditorium. The symposium is free to SIUC students, faculty and staff. There is a charge for non-SIUC-affiliates. Call the Division of Continuing Education at 618/536-7751 for details or visit and follow the links through conferences.

The two-day symposium features three keynote speakers. On February 28, Biodun Jeyifo, an expert on African drama generally and Soyinka particularly, speaks at 10:30 a.m. Jeyifo is professor of African-American studies at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. His topic is, “Forget the Muse, Think Only of the Subject.”

Gary Younge, a columnist for the British newspaper, “The Guardian” and that paper’s New York correspondent, speaks at 10 a.m. on February 29. He will talk about “Writing Wrongs: the U.S. Media and the War on Terror.”

Author and social justice advocate Randall Robinson speaks at 2 p.m. on February 29 about “The Impact of Race: Africa and the World.”

B. On Saturday March 1st from 1-2 pm The Black Rep welcomes Nobel Prize Winner Wole Soyinka, “Death and the King’s Horseman” playwright and NOBEL PRIZE WINNER, to The Grandel Theatre. This is a FREE event. Space is Limited. Reserve your seat today. Contact Cornelius Davis 314-534-3810 or email


C. March 19 through April 13 “Death and the King’s Horseman” runs at the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre’s main stage at the Grandel Theatre For more information, visit

The play is one of Soyinka’s greatest and most famous works. Based on a true story, the play describes the events and aftermath when British colonial authorities prevent the spiritually significant ritual suicide of a deceased chieftain’s horseman. The play is mysterious, yet said to be one of Soyinka’s more accessible plays, touching as it does on such basic human problems as the meaning of life, of death and of religion.

(Information gathered from news reports.)

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