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Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, essayist, poet, and novelist, known for making work about Africa from a distinctly African perspective. His work often includes a critique of European colonialism, and he seamlessly blends African creative traditions, mythology, and symbolism with more Western theatrical tropes in his work. He has been celebrated throughout his career for his unique perspective, his political critique (specifically of Nigerian dictatorship and government) and his poetic language.
Born in 1934 in Nigeria, Soyinka was close with both his parents, who were English speakers, and his grandfather, who was influential in teaching him about Yoruba culture. He underwent traditional Yoruba initiation rites when he came of age, before then going to college for a Western education at the University of Leeds. This unique blend of traditional upbringing with Western education is an important part of Soyinka’s work. After deciding to stay in England to work as a play reader at the Royal Court Theater, he began to write plays of his own.
After returning to Nigeria in 1960, Soyinka taught and wrote more plays, many of which had a political message of breaking from European culture in order to embrace the authenticity of African heritage. There, he became more politically involved, and was even imprisoned for 2 years in 1967 for helping rebel forces in Nigeria in procuring military aircraft.
In 1986, Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He has had a tempestuous relationship with Nigeria, having been exiled and let back into the country several times throughout his life. His plays include Death and the King’s Horseman, Dance of the Forests, and The Swamp Dwellers, among others.