Wole Soyinka

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Wole Soyinka in 2008

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka (born 13 July 1934) is a Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, essayist and pro-democracy activist. In 1986 he became the first African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.


  • I said: "A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces". In other words: a tiger does not stand in the forest and say: "I am a tiger". When you pass where the tiger has walked before, you see the skeleton of the duiker, you know that some tigritude has been emanated there.
    • Janheinz Jahn (trans. Oliver Coburn and Ursula Lehrburger) A History of Neo-African Literature (London: Faber, 1968) pp. 265-6.
    • Explaining, in Berlin in 1964, a criticism of the concept of négritude he had made at a conference in Kampala in 1962.
  • The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.
    • The Man Died (New York: Harper & Row, 1972) p. 13.
  • There is only one home to the life of a river-mussel; there is only one home to the life of a tortoise; there is only one shell to the soul of man: there is only one world to the spirit of our race. If that world leaves its course and smashes on boulders of the great void, whose world will give us shelter?
  • [T]he PDP, on whose platform he stands, represents the most harrowing of this nation’s nightmares over and beyond even the horrors of the Abacha regime. If he wishes to be considered on his own merit, now is time for him, as well as others similarly enmeshed, to exercise the moral courage that goes with his repudiation of that party, a dissociation from its past, and a pledge to reverse its menacing future. We shall find him an alternative platform on which to stand, and then have him present his credentials along those of other candidates engaged in forging a credible opposition alliance.
    • Sahara Reporters[1]
  • "Come January 20, 2017; watch my WOLEXIT" [2] [3]
  • England is a cesspit. England is the breeding ground of fundamentalist Muslims. Its social logic is to allow all religions to preach openly. But this is illogic, because none of the other religions preach apocalyptic violence. And yet England allows it. Remember, that country was the breeding ground for communism, too. Karl Marx did all his work in libraries there....We should assemble all those who are pure and cannot abide other faiths, put them all in rockets, and fire them into space.....A virus has attacked the world of sense and sensibility, and it has spread to Nigeria....The assumption of power over life and death then passed to every single inconsequential Muslim in the world-as if someone had given them a new stature...Al Qaeda is the descendent of this phenomenon. The proselytization of Islam became vigorous after this. People went to Saudi Arabia. Madrassas were established everywhere.
  • The greatest threat to freedom is the absencee of criticism.
    • The strong man syndrome [4]
  • the contemporary novel . . . I've read one or two: Rushdie, I've enjoyed, again, exceptionally, Marquez, I love his works: that's another exception. Bessie Head: I found her novels very, very gripping, fascinating, challenging, really intellectually intriguing. Then that black American woman writer, Toni Morrison, the author of Sula, Song of Solomon: she's a fascinating writer. Umberto Eco . . . But generally I don't read novels.
    • in Talking with African Writers by Jane Wilkinson (1992)

Quotes about Soyinka[edit]

  • My themed reading for both flights was Wole Soyinka, anything I had not yet read by the Nigerian novelist, memoirist, poet, and playwright. Because New York City was our final destination, I lingered over a poem of his titled "New York, U.S.A," which had been published more than a decade earlier. "Control was wrested from your pilot's hands,/And yours, mid-Atlantic, hapless voyager./Deafened the engine's last descent/To all but disordered echoes of your feet."
  • I like a writer like Ngugi, who lashes out, because he knows what is good and bad in writing. And I think this is true of Wole Soyinka, too... I admire Soyinka because I think he's continuous, much more continuous, as a writer…Wole Soyinka deserves the Nobel Prize.
    • Buchi Emecheta In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock (1992)
  • What I sensed in Soyinka is that, for the most part, as a middle-aged man he is able to look back on his childhood and still see his early life with that fresh eye.
    • 1982 interview in Conversations with Nadine Gordimer edited by Nancy Topping Bazin and Marilyn Dallman Seymour (1990)
  • Now, the most eloquent irreligious individual voice in Nigeria is our first Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Soyinka is an eminent literary scholar. He has consistently argued for tolerance and respect for the humanity of all in the face of religious intolerance and extremism. Soyinka has not minced words in condemning the unconscionable religious gladiators in the region that have often turned the country into a theatre of absurdity and holy wars. He has been consistent in his condemnation of the jihadists and crusaders who often orchestrate religious bloodletting in their quest to implement Sharia law or to further some self-styled divine mandate. While I cannot say for sure how impactful his rational appeals are on policies and programs, Soyinka’s statements are sources of hope and light at times of darkness and despair. I can say for certain that on occasions when religious extremists push the nation to the brink. When religion blinds and people are unable to see or think clearly, when fear and fanaticism loom very large, Soyinka is a voice of rational sanity, thoughtful courage, and moderation.
  • Chinua Achebe was a real education for me, a real education. And certainly the plays of Soyinka and The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born of Ayi Kwei Armah-those things were at that time real, and they're the kinds of books that one can re-read with enormous discoveries subsequently.
    • 1986 interview in Conversations with Toni Morrison edited by Danille K. Taylor-Guthrie (1994)
  • He is remembered in Nigeria with awe, both for a political boldness that landed him in prison and for a commanding intellect that is manifest in every genre he tackles.
    • John Updike Hugging the Shore (New York: Knopf, 1983) pp. 683-4.

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