Literature in Nigeria - Interview with Wole Soyinka


Nigerian writer and Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka is one of the most important partners of Project "Cassandra". In this interview he answers some questions about the state of literature and the role of Biafra in Nigeria.

Project Cassandra: What do you feel is the most important novel published in Nigeria this year?

Wole Soyinka: A question I always find difficult to answer. Important from what perspective? Breaking new grounds stylistically? Addressing taboo issues? Defending human rights? Revalidating traditional social values? Exposing high-placed crimes? Championing gender equality etc. etc.?

I prefer to state simply that a recent work that engaged my literary interest, was "The Fishermen" by Chigozie Obioma.

Project Cassandra: What role would writers have in an ideal society? What function could/should literature have in Nigeria?

Wole Soyinka: Same as the role and function of writers around the world.

Project Cassandra: How free do you consider the literary scene in Nigeria to be? Which books or authors do you see threatened by censorship? In your opinion, what role does self-censorship play?

Wole Soyinka: No such effective censorship exists. There are however the fundamentalist censors, self-constituted. A work by Onyeka Nwelue was recently denounced by some wanabee Christian Ayatollahs. They demonstrated with placards reading “Death to Nwelue”. They were largely ignored. If it had been a work considered impious by Muslim fundamentalists, it could have had more serious developments.

Project Cassandra: Many young authors (e.g.: Sefi Atta: "Everything Good Will Come" or Chimamanda Ngozi: "Half of a Yellow Sun") are openly or implicitly dealing with the topic of Biafra. For example when they write about tensions between Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa after the Biafra War. How do you see this reemergence of Biafra as a topic in young Nigerian Literature?

Wole Soyinka: Yes, a number of young writers are resolved to keep the Biafran flag aloft – Chimamanda Adichie very prominently. And of course the media makes the occasional reference to it, especially whenever it’s time for new elections. A number believe that Nigeria will not be completely healed until a Biafran president is elected. I’m afraid there will always be the ghost of Biafra haunting the nation.

Project Cassandra: Given the international biographies of many Nigerian authors and the migration experiences of many in Nigerian society: What role does the aspect of territory play in Nigerian literature? Is the Nigeria that is created in novels written abroad different from the images of Nigeria in Nigeria itself?

Wole Soyinka: No. Hardly ever. Can’t recall reading a Teritory/Border thematic novel. Not even as an underlying motif.

Abeokuta, Tübingen -23 May 2020

This interview is an excerpt from a forthcoming publication by Project "Cassandra"

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