Soyinka named Woodruff professor

Nigerian playwright and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has been appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. At its Sept. 12 meeting, the Board of Trustees Executive Committee affirmed the appointment made by President Bill Chace.

Honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, Soyinka was Distinguished Visiting Professor in African American Studies last spring, marking the 25th anniversary of African American studies at Emory. He has continued this relationship into the fall semester.

Soyinka is the second Nobel laureate to teach at Emory. The first was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a Visiting Woodruff Professor in 1991-92 and is scheduled to return to Emory in 1997.

Commenting on the appointment of Soyinka, Chace said, "I and my colleagues at Emory are deeply gratified that Wole Soyinka has found Emory to be an agreeable institutional home. His sojourn among us already has burnished the name of Emory and, more important, has made present to our students one of the great dramatic imaginations of the 20th century."

Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, Soyinka has been not only an eminent poet and playwright, but also an outspoken critic of totalitarian regimes in his native land. From 1970 to 1975, he was in voluntary exile in Europe. During this time, he served as editor of Transition, Africa's most important intellectual journal.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Soyinka held faculty positions at several universities, including Yale, Cornell, Cambridge and Harvard. An actor, director and producer, he was named president of UNESCO's International Theatre Institute in 1985. When his passport was confiscated by the Nigerian government in September 1994, he fled Nigeria and remains in exile. In March 1996, Soyinka's lifework was the subject of three lectures given by Henry Louis Gates Jr., in the distinguished Richard Ellmann Lectures at Emory.

Imprisoned during the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1969--most of that time in solitary confinement--Soyinka drew on that experience for his book The Man Died. A very different prose work, Ake, his childhood biography, has been acclaimed as a classic. Among his dramatic works, Death and the King's Horseman has been called a masterpiece on the level of Oedipus Rex and Hamlet. His poetry has been collected under many titles, including Mandela's Earth and Other Poems, and he is a noted essayist as well.

As Woodruff Professor of the Arts, Soyinka will teach during the fall semester of each academic year. In addition to collaborating on artistic productions with Theater Emory, he will offer lectures, graduate seminars and faculty seminars. The areas of the curriculum expected to engage his activity include theater studies, creative writing, liberal studies, history, philosophy, political science, art history and religion.

--Gary Hauk

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