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Literature: SOYINKA: I Don’t Have Ambassadorial Temperament



Folake Soyinka (left); Special Guest of Honour, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Lady Francesca Emanuel; and General Alani Akinriade (rted) at the launch of GLO Literary Price for Undergraduate Students at the Eko Hotel and Suits, Victoria Island, Lagos on August 28, 2015 PHOTO: CHARLES OKOLO

• Glo Literary Prize for Undergraduate Students launched
FOR young writers who feel a moral burden to write about injustice, oppression and burning social issues of the day with the aim of attempting to effect a change in the Nigerian or African polity, a word of advice has come from the eminent writer himself and Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka: “I don’t have ambassadorial temperament when I write.

I accept my own responsibility; I carry my own burden myself. Often I question so-called global, sectional kind of writing that represents. I didn’t set out to represent Nigeria; no!” Soyinka was responding to a question from Caine Prize winner Mr. Tope Folarin on whether he ever felt a burden of representation as a writer and Osundu’s on if writing seems like a job cut out for one in terms of political activism and the need to tackle social and political malaise.

It was during An Evening with Wole Soyinka event held in Lagos on Friday when Glo Literary Prize for Undergraduate Students was also launched. Winners in the three categories of fiction, drama and poetry will smile home with N1.5 million in each category.

Undergraduate students are to submit original manuscript entries to quality for the prize designed to encourage the study of literature in Nigeria’s higher institutions.

In responding to Folarin and Osundu, Soyinka thinks otherwise and says writing directed at other things was just as good and compelling enough reason to write.

What is important, according to him, is the ability to connect reality and imagination and so help enlarge the human horizon to its infinite capacities and possibilities.

He also warned writers not to be trapped in slogans, as fascism did not necessarily equate good literature. “If you feel strong enough about issues of justice, social welfare, feminism, which embraces oppression, then you can go ahead.

But the deplorable one is to force oneself to write about issues. What I’m concerned with is the transformation of the mind and imagination, to create a new form of reality; a writing that enlarges our horizon is literature and not necessarily fascism.

People get trapped in slogans. I cannot tolerate fascism in writing. Follow the temper of your heart and not propaganda”. The man often called Kongi fleetingly recalled his days at Mbari with Chinua Achebe, J.P. Clark and Christopher Okigbo with some nostalgia and bemoaned what the country has become in the intervening years. “There was Mbari with Achebe, Clark, who is here with us and Okigbo.

These days, a lot more energy goes into practical survival. There was more leisure back then; circumstances today are very different”. Award-winning female writer Atta also tasked him on feminism and wondered if he is a feminist himself.

According to him, “Feminism is described in so many ways. There are those who believe men should be castrated, others say a sign of true feminism is not to wear bra while others think of it as intellectual mentoring.

I’m just a generous man; if you’re a man who believes in helping to change diapers so be it. “But I deploy attempt by society to define what individuals should be.

I dissent on legislation on what consenting adults can do in their privacy. Let’s not interfere on what adults are. I believe in humanity. I’m confused about machismo and feminism; you should be yourself!” An audience member wanted him to relate his ‘Telephone Conversation’ poem to current political realities in the country.

Telephone Conversation’ is on the theme of the ‘negative otherness’, the outsider; racial discrimination is at its core. Now, we have elite, the chosen ones versus the rest of us.

I’m talking about the mindless, extreme fundamentalists who think only they have the right to existence. The intolerance of the extreme group is appalling”.

But on a lighter note, Soyinka wondered how teachers are able to explain the telephone metaphor of the poem to students since box telephones have gone out of vogue, and with it the little pranks, especially street telephones that could yield a small fortune for the young boy hunting for left over coins by a previous user”.

Just like everybody else, Soyinka said he is also affected by mood swings in his writing and wondered who doesn’t in response to Mr. Dele Momodu’s question. “It will be very boring if we have linear stories.

There is mood swing; I do have mood swings. Or don’t you?” Soyinka felt lifted by the presence of some Brazilians in the audience represented by a lady who spoke warmly about him and Africa generally and said she carried the message of millions of Brazilians of African descent, a country with the largest African peoples second only to Nigeria. “This is a most inspiring coincidence having just arrived from a conference Brazil recently,” he said. “It’s very symbolic this singular identity with the Diaspora and we hope it will grow economically and politically”.

Also, the foremost academic lamented the state of education in the country and proposed that a state of emergency be declared in education to redress the ravaging rut.

Osundu thanked Soyinka for having “written the roadmap for us” while Folarin said “he had a profound impact on me when I was growing up”. The three writers and Soyinka read from his books.

In launching Glo Literary Prize for Undergraduate Students, an official of Globacom Mr. Ebenezer Kolawole restated the primacy of literature as a mirror of society and how it preserves traditions, culture and enriches humanity.

Also, Chairman of Globacom Dr. Mike Adenuga praised Soyinka’s intrepid and artistic spirit, adding, “He is a sedulous writer and a raconteur par excellence whose works have for decades remained study materials the world over, and will be so for generations to come”.

The event was generously spiced with performances. Young Footprints of David provided the opener. The Bolanle Austin-Peters Production performed the military drill part of Soyinka’s recent play Alapata Apata to stunning military precision and applause.

Soyinka’s musical soul mate Tunji Oyelana brought back the mood swing and feel of yesteryears, but not without commending Kongi’s musical prowess, noting, “Wole Soyinka is not only a writer of words; all through the 50 years I’ve worked with him, he is a master of writing notes of music”.

He performed ‘I caught you in my trap’ and Soyinka’s recorded music ‘I love my country I no go lie’. Panel of judges for the newly inaugurated prize include Profs. Femi Osofisan, Mohammed Umar-Buratai, Akachi Ezeigbo and Olu Obafemi, with Dr. Promise Ogochukwu, as Secretary.

It was also a gathering of artistic and cultural personalities, including Profs. Duro Oni, Tunde Kelani, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Odia Ofeimun, Chief Emanuel Francesca, Mr. Kolade Mosuro and many others. D’Banj and Bez also performed to bring the evening to a glorious close.

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