Today, July 13, 2015, cross-continental Emeritus Professor of Drama, and Africa’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Wole Soyinka, will be 81. Straddling the twentieth and the twenty-first century, Soyinka remains the lifelong signature of his age on the pages of ages. Yours sincerely’s socio-academic intercourse with the literary giant could be multi-faceted. One was born July 13, the other July 14. The day one was 50. the following day the other was 25. Both share common career as literary practitioners. Each had his first son at the same age.
Each of the sons took to the same career, medicine, with each doing his Post-Graduate interns at the World Health Organisation Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Out of the twenty-eight literature courses that I teach at the Lagos State University External Systems, almost all of them have brought me close to the Soyinka essence, incidences, coincidences, immanence and transcendence. I have had to teach the course titled LIT 511: ‘The Writing of Wole Soyinka’ in almost all the nine campuses of the now about-to-be-phased-out schools of the external system.
The exercise had afforded me the opportunity to open up literature to Lagos and Lagos to literature, one of the cities that have featured prominently in Soyinka’s world of fiction. Many thanks to eminent academic personalities who made it possible from ‘meta-genesis’: Dapo Thomas, Charles Alade, Ojo Olorunleke, Omolola Ladele, Bukola Atolagbe, and American Academic Fellow and one of the best academic administrators I’ve ever traversed, Steve Ogunpitan. Just to mention some LASU Manchester United! Always the Number One examination question in LIT 511: “Wole Soyinka is unquestionably Africa’s most versatile writer; arguably one of her finest(New York Times Book Review). Discuss”.
It was never a compulsory question, but the moment you could do this “omnibus squelching tar” satisfactorily, you could conquer the terrain. Soyinka is not just the face of versatile African literature per mytho-poesy, drama, poetry, fiction, memoirs, film, music, et al, but he bestrides eras, epochs and theoretical frameworks. And so, you also encounter this persona of literary history when you find yourself taking the course LIT 423: ‘European Classics(Prose and Drama)’. You’d have to answer question Number One, namely: “In art, architecture and literature, classics are works of lasting importance and enduring value. Discuss.” By the stroke of this question, students are free to roam the streets of literary history, examining all the billboards of adaptations and translations as what distinguishes classics from non-classics.
The list could be endless: Sophocle’s ‘Oedipus Rex’ becomes Ola Rotimi’s ‘The Gods Are Not To Blame’; Sophocle’s ‘Oedipus at Colonus’ becomes Soyinka’s ‘Oyedipo at Kolhinu’; Sophocle’s ‘Antigone’ becomes Femi Osofisan’s ‘Tegonni’; Euripide’s ‘The Bacchae’ becomes Soyinka’s ‘The Bacchae of Euripides’; Moliere’s ‘That Scoundrel Scapin’ becomes Dapo Adelugba’s ‘That Scoundrel Suberu’; Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ becomes Wale Ogunyemi’s ‘Igbesi Aiye Okonkwo’; Soyinka’s ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ becomes Akinwunmi Isola’s ‘Iku Olokun Esin’; Sarif Easmon’s ‘Dear Parent, And Ogre’ comes in form of Uzor Maxim Uzoatu’s
‘Dear Teacher, And Pagan’(addressed to his teacher, Wole Soyinka, the first to produce Easmon’s play in Lagos in 1961); Victor Turner’s ‘Forest of Symbols’ comes in form of Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s ‘House of Symbols’; William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in form of Akachi Ezeigbo’s ‘Roses and Bullet’; Homer’s ‘The Tojan War’ comes as Virgil’s ‘The Aenid’, Olanipekun Esan’s ‘Esin Atiroja’ and Osofisan’s
‘The Women of Owu’, and Soyinka’s exploration of the Ogun myth in both ‘Idanre’ and his Nobel acceptance speech translated into Swedish as ‘Ogun Skugga’ etc. Then the co-incidences: Wole Soyinka shares the same initials with William Shakespeare, WS. Each is an epochal dramatist of his own age. And whereas Shakespeare lived for 52 years,(1564-1616), Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature at the age of 52,(1934-1986). Inspired by Kofi Anyidoho’s poem titled ‘The Place We Call Home’, the title of this article is derived from the highly romantic paper I delivered at the anniversary of my alma mater, Ondo Grammar School, Ondo on 4th February, 2015. It was titled: ‘Pages of Ages: Alma Mater As Cornerstone Of Life’s Architecture’ Here is to show indebtedness to one major master-builder in that cornerstone, Wole Soyinka.