Wole Soyinka: Celebrating African literary at 85

Last year, I was enthralled watching a stage performance of ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ at Cinema Hall 2, National Theatre Iganmu, Lagos.

I was so engrossed in the excitement of stage play directed by Mike Anyanwu and performed by the National Troupe of Nigeria that I almost missed out on the lessons to take home.

It was at the exit of the cinema hall that a friend reminded me that ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ was written by Professor Wole Soyinka in 1976.

The intrigue is that after over 40 years of its release, ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ still mirrors the society, reflects on topical issues and most importantly, entertains the audience wherever it is staged.

As well, if you read ‘Telephone Conversation’, a poem by Wole Soyinka, you will marvel at the creative ingenuity of Soyinka; the poet, who was a student in London then.

The issues Soyinka raised in the poem, which was written over 50 years ago, are still topical today. Again, the intrigue for me in ‘Telephone Conversation’ was how Soyinka hilariously tackled the issue of racism, which many African students encountered with their hosts in the 1950s London.

The depth, beautiful writing, excitement, issue-based, hilarious spices, spotlight on African cultural heritage, ability to pry into the future, among other qualities, stood out his writings.

From poems, drama, novel, essay, and other forms of creative and critical writings, Soyinka proved himself as a master of his craft.

No wonder he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, and setting record as the first African laureate. The organisers described him as one “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”.

As much as Soyinka is notable for his great literary works, he is also revered for his activism and courage to challenge poor leadership, military juntas, injustice, corruption by the political class in Nigeria and across Africa, and welfare of the masses.

It would be recalled that in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which he entitled, “This Past Must Address Its Present”, he devoted it to Nelson Mandela, late South African freedom-fighter, who later became president. The speech was an outspoken criticism of apartheid and the politics of racial segregation imposed on the majority by the Nationalist South African government.

Apart from the Nobel Prize, Soyinka has over 20 literary honours from across the word including the Agip Prize for Literature, which he received in 1986.

With 28 drama books, two novels, three short stories, five memoirs, eight poetry collections, 13 essays, three movies and three translations, Professor Wole Soyinka has achieved feats, which many contemporary literary giants strive to attempt.

The literary icon is worth celebrating even now he turned 85 years, yet still contributing to the literary space and society.

This year, many friends, students and associates of the Nobel Laureate, rolled out colourful drums to celebrate the octogenarian. One of such groups was the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE), which organised series of literary activities to celebrate their literary icon, who turned 85 years on July 13, 2019.

The 3-day event started from July 12-15, 2019 and continued simultaneously in Lagos, Abeokuta and Akure with literary discourse and theater performances.

One of the exciting activities of the event was an advocacy session that explored Soyinka’s body of work to reflect on the concepts of rights, honours, respect, patriotism, tolerance and humanism. There was also a photography exhibition held at Kongis’s Harvest Art Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos that displayed photographs, journals and printed materials.

But the intrigue at the event was the silence of the literary giant and activist.

Reacting to the development, Jahman Oladejo, member of the WSICE organising team, said perhaps, the Nobel Laureate felt he has in all his youthful life said all that needed to be said, to correct anomalies in the society.

Well, the 85th birthday celebration continues as July is regarded as the Wole Soyinka Month by lots of his students, fans, friends and associates across the world.

The ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, one his foremost plays, is staging across venues in Lagos to mark Soyinka’s birthday. It staged at the Freedom Park, Lagos on July 14th, at the Lagos State Council of Arts and Culture, Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja on July 19 and 20, 2019, and will also stage at Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island, Lagos today July 21, 2019 by 6pm.

The play is free to attend at all the venues. So, go and watch the sheer creativity of Soyinka being performed on stage, especially if you have not read the drama piece.