The University of Iowa

Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka is a Nov. 6 guest of the UI

October 25th, 2011

University News Services

This announcement also appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen

The International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa will welcome Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author Wole Soyinka to the UI Sunday, Nov. 6. He will take part in two free, public events: He will receive the Rex Honey African Studies Lectureship Award, presented by the UI African Studies Program, at 3:30 p.m. in Shambaugh Auditorium of the UI Main Library; and he will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. in the Englert Theatre.

The African Studies Program, part of UI International Programs, will present the award in memory of faculty member Rex D. Honey to recognize Soyinka’s outstanding contribution to world literature and his continuing advocacy of human rights reforms in Nigeria and around the globe. Following the presentation of the award, Soyinka will deliver a lecture.

Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, is the author of more than 30 volumes of creative work, including plays, volumes of poetry, and collections of nonfiction, as well as two novels.

A fierce defender of human rights and longtime advocate for democratic reforms, Soyinka has been jailed and exiled for his humanitarian stances. He is now a professor emeritus in comparative literature at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, as well as President’s Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

With the Nobel he was honored as a man “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.” His Nobel biography noted, “He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.”

After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where in 1973 he received his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-59. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama.

At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, and in 1960, he founded the theatre group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the Orisun Theatre Company, in which he produced his own plays and took part as actor. He was a visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.

During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969.

Honey, a faculty member in geography who began his UI career in 1974 and co-founded the UI Center for Human Rights, died in 2010. As a professor of geography, he was interested in the extent to which geopolitical environments make a difference in the way human rights are or are not respected. His UI Web page explained, “my research involves a commitment to justice and equity, not just in jurisdictional issues but more broadly.”

He also served as director of the UI’s Crossing Borders Graduate Training Program, the African Studies Program, and the Global Studies Program, now the undergraduate program in International Studies.

Honey frequently spent time overseas for research and teaching. He lived in Jordan, where he worked for that country’s Ministry of Planning in 1984-85 and where he was when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. He was in Israel in 1982 and 1989 and Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1985. His studies also took him to Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand, and Nigeria.

These events are also sponsored by the South Asian Studies Program; the Caribbean, Diaspora, and Atlantic Studies program; the School of Journalism and Mass Communication; the University of Iowa Museum of Art; and the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.