Kongi's Harvest

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Oxford U.P., Dec 31, 1967 - Drama - 90 pages

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About the author (1967)

The first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1986), Wole Soyinka, a Yoruba from western Nigeria, is a distinguished playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, social critic, political activist, and literary scholar. Although his literary oeuvre is varied, Soyinka is best known internationally for his politically provocative plays, which invariably are social commentaries on the day-to-day problems of Nigeria and the wider African world. In a recent interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., with whom he revived Transition magazine as an intellectual medium for a wider African and African-diasporic expression and readership, Soyinka said, "I cannot conceive of my existence without political involvement" (N.Y. Times Book Review). Soyinka's political commitment resulted in his imprisonment during the Nigerian civil war. Accused of treason, he was held in solitary confinement during most of this period. Two of his works, The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka (1988) and Poems from Prison (1969), were secretly written on toilet paper and smuggled out of prison. Soyinka's pioneering efforts and creative talents have been a major influence on the development of Nigerian drama. In the 1960s, he founded two Nigerian theater groups:the 1960 Masks and the Orisun Theatre. Since then, his plays have been widely performed in university and public theaters in Nigeria, elsewhere in Africa, as well as in Europe and the United States. Some of the most widely staged of his plays have been his adaptation of The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), his parody of African dictators, A Play for Giants (1984), and his topical and symbolic recreation of the political intrigues in a typical Yoruba kingdom, Death and the King's Horsemen (1976). To date Soyinka has published two stylistically challenging novels, The Interpreters (1965), winner of the 1968 Jock Campbell Literary Award, and Season of Anomy (1973). The former is about a group of young Nigerian intellectuals frustrated by their society, and the latter is an allegory on the Nigerian civil war. More stylistically challenging but far less opaque than his novels is Soyinka's poetry, which is deeply rooted in Yoruba mythology. While most of his poems are symbolic reflections on universal philosophical questions about human and transhuman existence, others, like those collected in A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972) and more recently in Mandela's Earth and Other Poems (1988), deal with the more pressing issues in Nigerian and pan-African politics in much the same vein as his plays. When his autobiography Ake: The Years of Childhood was published in 1982, it was hailed by the New York Times as one of the 12 best books of the year. A charming memoir of Soyinka's first 11 years, the book offers insights into Yoruba culture and its influence on his childhood. Born in Abeokuta, Ogun State of Nigeria, Soyinka was educated at the University College, Ibadan, and at the University of London and Leeds University in England, where he moved in 1954. He has held research and teaching appointments in several universities both at home and abroad, including the University of Ibadan, the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) at Ile-Ife, and Cornell University. Just before he won the Nobel Prize for literature, he had retired as professor of comparative literature at Ieft to devote himself to writing, occasional lecturing, and voluntary public service. His first voluntary public service was as chairman of the National Road Safety Commission, from which he was recently forced to resign because he disagreed with the constant change of direction of Babanginda's military government.

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