From "Wole Soyinka and the Nobel Prize for Literature"

Bruce King

[from Sewanee Review 96 (1988), 339-45]

"The cultural map of the world is changing radically, and recognition of Soyinka's writings constitutes part of our increased awareness of modern Africa, including its popular music, its contemporary art, and the impressive body of literature that the continent is now producing in response to rapid political, social, and economic changes. One of the best dramatists of our time, Wole Soyinka blends Afrcian with European cultural traditions, the high seriousness of modernist elite literature, and the topicality of African popular theater. He is a modern who writes from an African-centered world view without nostalgia for an idealized past, and his attitude is sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and international in awareness, reference, and relevance. Rather than protesting against the continuing effects of colonialism, he has tried to overcome fragmented, secularized western though with an integrated vision of life derived from his own Yoruba culture. Unlike European writers who, claiming a dissociation of sensibility in the modern world, turn toward various forms of authority, Soyinka is actively committed to social justice and the preservation of individual freedom, indefiance of the various repressive regimes, black and white, that Africa has produced. Despite the complexity of his writing he has a popular following in Nigeria as a dramatist and as an outspoken, daring public figure, deeply engaged in the main political issues of his country and Africa. His periods of imprisonment, especially the long detention during the Nigerian civil war, make him a symbol for humane values throughout the continent.

"Soyinka's writing is probing and energetic; he moves easily between European and Yoruba culture. Although set in such modern Nigerian cities as Lagos and Ibadan, the scenes and situations in his plays and novels seem gamiliar since they often are influenced by, are adapted from, or imitate well-known works of European literature. Shaped by myth and imagery, the narrative moves back and forth in time. The events are powerful; the language is filled with puns and witty word-play, references, and allusions. Soyinka has an excellent sense of dramatic rhythm and visual theater. Although he is a poet who creates rich layers of images and symbols, his plays resemble those of Ben Jonson and Bertolt Brecht in their energy, knock-about humor, satire, sharply outlined characters, sense of society, unexpected development, and use of popular culture. Besides Yoruba expressions, songs, and myth, he uses a Yorubaized English in his poetry, which while creating a strange syntax and artificial diction, is in expression highly metaphoric, allusive, and economical."