The University of Iowa

Nobel-winner Wole Soyinka to be honored in IC

November 3rd, 2011

By Jordan Montgomery, The Daily Iowan

Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka will be recognized in Iowa City this weekend for his outstanding contributions to world literature and his commitment to the struggle for human rights.

At 3:30 p.m. Nov. 6, Soyinka will receive the Rex D. Honey African Studies Program Lectureship Award. A ceremony will be held in the Main Library’s Shambaugh Auditorium after Soyinka presents the lecture “Technology and the Writer: Open Book and Closed Text.” At 7:30 p.m., Soyinka will read from his work in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washingon St. Both events are free and open to the public.

“He is not only one of the world’s great writers, but also one of the great figures in the human rights movement,” said Christopher Merrill, the director of the International Writing Program. “He rarely gives readings and public events, so it’s really a huge privilege to host him in Iowa City.”

In 1986, Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first African laureate. He has published nearly 50 works, including 21 plays.

“You learn something about courage; his whole life is a profile in courage,” Merrill said. “You learn something about the relationship between politics and literature; you learn something about human dignity. He reminds us what the stakes are in every piece of writing.”

Soyinka is not only a writer and scholar, he is also a political activist. When Nigeria was on the brink of civil war in the mid-1960s, Soyinka lived in hiding and worked to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflicts. Unfortunately, his underground activity was found out, and he was imprisoned for 22 months.

“He is a champion for human rights in Africa,” said Associate Professor Lyombe Eko, who will speak on Nov. 6 in Shambaugh Auditorium.

Soyinka is the second person to receive the award named for former UI geography Professor Honey. The first was awarded to Morgan Tsvangirai, the current prime minister of Zimbabwe.

“The award is to encourage people who are struggling against difficulties,” Eko said. “[They are] people who have shown leadership in the face of adversity, oppression, and authoritarianism. They are courageous people.”