Africa's Wisdom, Woes Occupy Soyinka's Existence | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : Tell Me More

Africa's Wisdom, Woes Occupy Soyinka's Existence

Play associated audio

"First of all, it meant for me money, which I had never had."

Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka tells NPR's Tell Me More host Michel Martin that being the first black African to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986 was extremely lucky, especially for his pocket. The $290,000 in prize money gave him a life he had never dreamed of before. But that fame came with a costs.

"The intensity of demands on my time, the loss of anonymity, the reduction of privacy, the focus on my individual self as opposed to the occupational clan to which I belonged — all this became, and still is, very much of a burden," he says.

It did not stop Soyinka from writing, though. His latest work, Of Africa, is a study of the continent. "It's an issue which has preoccupied me all my existence. I mean, naturally, Africa is my major constituency, and the spirituality [and political problems] of that continent have always preoccupied me."

'Depressed' By African Governments

Soyinka has documented Africa's history, from the promise of independence to its failures of governance. Looking at where Africa stands now, he says, "one should feel depressed."

After more than a half-century of independence, "this is not really the stage of development at which we should be," he points out. "Bottom line, the independent nations should have become truly ... self-reliant. We have failed to do that, and for me, it's inexcusable."

Africa's most critical problem at the moment, Soyinka says, is the "march of extreme intolerance in the form of religious fundamentalism." He believes it's like a disease. "I consider it like a dangerous virus, like HIV," he explains. As it has affected African countries like Mauritania, Nigeria and Mali, "this fundamentalist onslaught is becoming a refuge for violent psychopaths" to create mayhem and infect other parts of West Africa.

On Retirement

Soyinka, now 78, admits to having set various deadlines for his own retirement — all of which he has failed to meet.

"Long before the Nobel, I'd said by the time I'm 49, I am ready to retire," he says. That age comes from the orishas — or deities — of his traditional Yoruba religion. "Seven is the magic figure, because that's a symbolic figure of my favorite deity, Ogun."

He decided that as seven times seven equals 49, that would be the right age. "Later on, I said, 'I was wrong. It must be another configuration,' and so, on and on it goes. I have no explanation for it. I should really have retired by now," he muses.

To young writers who would like to follow in his footsteps, Soyinka has this advice: "You must be prepared to collect your rejection slips ... and carry on writing."

At some point, he says, "somebody, for some either genuine or foolish reasons, will be attracted to some material. From then on, develop a relationship from your editor or publisher. That's when you discover whether you really have a calling toward creating literature."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

It's Time For Comic-Con!

The annual pop culture convention underway in San Diego is not just for comic books — it brings the biggest stars from film, television and books together with their fans to talk about upcoming, and vintage, work.
NPR

The Weird, Underappreciated World Of Plastic Packaging

So much of the food we eat these days is encased in plastic. And behind it is a whole lot of research and innovation. We dive into some of the materials that keep food fresh and portable.
NPR

In A Luxury Apartment, Is A Separate 'Poor Door' Segregation?

New York City officials approved a plan for a separate entrance for low-income residents in a luxury building. Is the decision smart economics or discrimination? The Barbershop guys weigh in.
NPR

The Weird, Underappreciated World Of Plastic Packaging

So much of the food we eat these days is encased in plastic. And behind it is a whole lot of research and innovation. We dive into some of the materials that keep food fresh and portable.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.