Nobel laureate named to distinguished professorship

Emory will welcome its first nobel laureate to the ranks of the faculty later this month with the arrival of Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature (1986). Soyinka has been named to a distinguished visiting professorship in African American Studies for spring semester.

Soyinka will deliver three public lectures as well as a reading within the framework of the Ellmann Lectures in March. Soyinka will present: "Dual Values and African Politics" on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 3:30 p.m.; "Ritual is Alive and Well" on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 3:30 p.m.; and "Virtual Realities and the Province of Creativity" on Monday, March 25, at 4 p.m. All three lectures will be held in the Carlos Museum Reception Hall.

The Ellmann Lectures will be delivered by Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of African American Studies at Harvard, who also delivered Emory's 1995 commencement address. Gates' series of three lectures, titled "The Art and Politics of Wole Soyinka," are scheduled for Sunday, March 24, at 4 p.m. in WHSCAB Auditorium, with a public reception to follow in the foyer; and Monday and Tuesday, March 25 and 26, at 8:15 p.m. each evening in Cannon Chapel.

In addition, Soyinka will read from his work on Tuesday, March 26, at 4 p.m. in Winship Ballroom, Dobbs Center. A booksigning will follow. Those unable to attend may purchase Soyinka's books at the Emory Bookstores in advance for signing and pick them up afterwards. During the same week, an exhibition of materials related to the Ellmann Lectures will be on display in Special Collections, Woodruff Library.

"The appointment of Wole Soyinka as distinguished visiting professor in African American Studies is a means of marking the 25th anniversary of African American Studies at Emory," said Rudolph P. Byrd, director of African American Studies. "In supporting this historic appointment, [Emory College Dean] David Bright has enriched the intellectual life of African American Studies as well as that of the College."

Born in Abeokuta, Western Nigeria, Soyinka is the son of a primary school headmaster father and a teacher/performer/political activist mother. The Soyinkas were members of the Yoruba tribe, a West African people whose rich mythology, complex animistic beliefs and elaborate rituals and traditions play an important part in all of Soyinka's works.

A passionate student of both drama and literature, Soyinka produced two satirical revues in 1965, a period of intense political unrest in Nigeria. Later that year, following elections in Western Nigeria, Soyinka was arrested and charged with sponsoring a pirated radio broadcast denouncing the election results that had been substituted for the tape-recorded victory speech of Chief S.L. Akintola. After protests from a number of prominent British and American writers, the charges were eventually dropped.

During the early days of the Nigerian civil war in August 1967, Soyinka was arrested on charges of conspiring with the rebels. He was held in solitary confinement in a four-by-eight-foot cell for the next 27 months. While imprisoned, he continued writing, inscribing his words between the printed lines of books smuggled into him, on the inside of cigarette packs, and on toilet paper. These prison notes later became the basis of several major publications: Poems from Prison (1969) and its expanded version A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), the novel Season of Anomy (1973), the play Madmen and Specialists (1974), and the collection of prison notes, The Man Died (1972), which was banned in Nigeria in 1984.

From 1970-1975, Soyinka went into voluntary exile in Europe, and served as editor of Transition, considered Africa's most important intellectual journal, from 1971-1975. Through the 1960s and 1970s, he held faculty positions at the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan and the University of Ife. An actor, director and producer, Soyinka was named president of UNESCO's International Theatre Institute in 1985. In 1986, when Soyinka received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was cited as a writer "who, in a vast cultural perspective enriched with poetic resonances, stages a dramatic representation of existence."

In September 1994, Soyinka's passport was confiscated by the Nigerian government. Faced with the prospect of house arrest, Soyinka left Nigeria and remains in exile.

--Dan Treadaway