Nigerian and 1986 Nobel prize winning poet, playwright and author Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka turned 80 yesterday July 13 2014. The grey haired Abeokuta born writer has delighted readers in Africa and across the world since he started writer 57 years ago in-wait for it, 1957! He has written award winning poems, plays and novels and has been a harsh critic of the various Nigerian military and civilian governments and others across Africa including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and late Idi Amin Dada in Uganda. In “A play of Giants”, he pokes fun at some of these African “bigmen” who are often reluctant to quit power till they are kicked out forcefully.
It is still debatable if late Chinua Achebe (who never won a Noble prize but is widely considered the father of Africa literature after the publication of “Things Fall Apart) or Wole Soyinka is the greatest writer to come from Africa’s most populous country. What is certain is that Soyinka, like Achebe, has had a large influence on a generation of African writers and he is still very active today.
You can read his full biography Here
Here with one of his best know poems, Telephone conversation.
The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. “Madam” , I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey – I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
“HOW DARK?”…I had not misheard….”ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar.
It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis-
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT” Revelation came
“You mean- like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted
I chose. “West African sepia”_ and as afterthought.
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness chaged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?”
Facially, I am brunette, but madam you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet.
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused-
Foolishly madam- by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment madam! – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears- “Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”
Here is Wole Soyinka in a One on One with TV station Al Jazeera