The Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka
The Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka (born 1935) was one of the few African writers to denounce the slogan of Negritude as a tool of autocracy. He also was the first black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Wole Soyinka was born July 13, 1934 in Abeokuta a village on the banks of the River Ogun in the western area of Nigeria. His mother was a Christian convert so devout that he nicknamed her "Wild Christian" and he father was the scholarly headmaster of a Christian primary school whom he nicknamed "Essay"--a play on his occupation and his initials S.A. Soyinka was educated through the secondary level in Ibadan and later attended University College, Ibadan, and the University of Leeds, from which he graduated with honors. He worked for a brief period at the Royal Court Theatre in London before returning to Nigeria in 1960. His play, "The Invention" was staged in 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre. At that time his only published works were poems such as "The Immigrant" and "My Next Door Neighbour," which appeared in the magazine Black Orpheus.
The worsening political situation in Nigeria was reflected in Soyinka's theme for Kongi's Harvest, first performed at the Dakar Festival of Negro Arts in 1965. The theme was the establishment of a dictatorship in an African state; and the venal politician, the uncommitted, corrupt traditional ruler, and the ruthlessness of a man driven toward power were all displayed. In Idanre and Other Poems, published in 1967, Soyinka ceased being a satirist and became a gloomy visionary. The title poem, reciting a creation myth, stressed the symbols of fire, iron, and blood, which were central to the poet's view of the modern African world. Soyinka became a vocal critic of Negritude, accusing politicians of using it as a mask for autocracy. His increasing use of polemic against social injustice and his demands for freedom coincided with the military takeover in Nigeria and the later drift toward civil war. Soyinka was arrested by the Nigerian government in October 1967, was accused of spying for Biafra, and was kept in detention in the north for two years, after which he returned to his position as head of the drama department at Ibadan. Much of his creative attention following his release went into filming Kongi's Harvest, in which he also played the leading role. Soyinka's Nigeria was a country in transition, attempting to mold itself out of a variety of tribal cultures and a turbulent European colonization. Soyinka did not romanticize his native land, nor was he willing to see African culture as a flat symbol of primitiveness. He was as willing to charge Nigerian politicians and bureaucrats with barbarity and corruption as he was to condemn the greed and materialism of the west. These attitudes were even more prevalent after his second incarceration on the trumped up spying charges. His work took on a darker and angrier tone. When he was released from prison in 1969, Soyinka left Nigeria and did not return until the government changed in 1975. Soyinka's prison diary, published in 1972 The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka was a fragmented and grim account of the days he spent incarcerated, often in chains. Along with his verses that captured the essence of his prison experience, The Man Died provided invaluable context for Soyinka's subsequent imagery in his works. Soyinka's post-prison works striked readers as more angry and despairing than his earlier ones. The play Madmen and Specialists was about a young doctor who returned from war trained in the ways of torture and practices his new skills on his seemingly mad old father. Charles Larson in New York Times Review of Books called the play "a product of those months Soyinka spent in prison, in solitary confinement, as a political prisoner. It is, not surprisingly, the most brutal social criticism he has ever published." Yet not all his post prison works were filled with...
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