Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka (Yoruba: Akínwándé Olúwo̩lé Babátúndé S̩óyíinká; born 13 July 1934), known as Wole Soyinka (pronounced [wɔlé ʃójĩnká]), is a Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist in the English language. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first sub-Saharan African to be honoured in that category. Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta. In 1954, he attended Government College in Ibadan, and subsequently University College Ibadan and the University of Leeds in England. After studying in Nigeria and the UK, he worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London. He went on to write plays that were produced in both countries, in theatres and on radio. He took an active role in Nigeria's political history and its struggle for independence from Great Britain. In 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon and put in solitary confinement for two years.
Soyinka has been a strong critic of successive Nigerian (and African at large) governments, especially the country's many military dictators, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe Much of his writing has been concerned with "the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it". During the regime of General Sani Abacha (1993–98), Soyinka escaped from Nigeria on a motorcycle via the "NADECO Route." Abacha later proclaimed a death sentence against him "in absentia." With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his nation. In December 2020, Soyinka described 2020 as the most challenging year in the nation's history. He said: "With the turbulence that characterised year 2020, and as activities wind down, the mood has been repugnant and very negative. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but this is one of the most pessimistic years I have known in this nation and it wasn’t just because of COVID-19. Natural disasters had happened elsewhere, but how have you managed to take such in their strides?"
In Nigeria, Soyinka was a Professor of Comparative literature (1975 to 1999) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ife.] With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, he was made professor emeritus. While in the United States, he first taught at Cornell University as Goldwin Smith professor for African Studies and Theatre Arts from 1988 to 1991 and then at Emory University, where in 1996 he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has served as scholar-in-residence at NYU's Institute of African American Affairs and at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. He has also taught at the universities of Oxford, Harvard and Yale. Soyinka was also a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Duke University in 2008.
In December 2017, he was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in the "Special Prize" category awarded to someone who has "contributed to the realization of cultural events that promote understanding and the exchange of knowledge between peoples".