Nobel Laureates Honor Wole Soyinka

WED, APR 27, 2005 (2:12:20)

Toni Morrison and other Nobel Laureates read in honor of the 70th birthday of literary giant and human rights activist Wole Soyinka.

Wole Soyinka, born near Ibadan, Nigeria, is world renowned for his numerous dramatic works, novels, essays, and poems. Known for his outspoken criticism of the Nigerian government, especially during its civil war, Soyinka appealed in an article for a cease-fire between opposition groups and the government. As a result, he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Currently, the first Alphonse Fletcher Fellow at Harvard University's W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Soyinka received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 and participated in the evening's festivities by reading from his own imaginative and groundbreaking work.

Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the Du Bois Institute, the event features some of the world's literary masters reading from their work. In addition, A Season of Laureates includes individual introductions by Homi F. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenburg Professor of English and Literature, Harvard University; novelist Jamaica Kincaid, Visiting Lecturer on African and African American Studies and Literature, Harvard University; K. Anthony Appiah, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University; and Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Cosponsored with the Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

+ BIO: Nadine Gordimer

She has traveled extensively, has written non-fiction on South African subjects and made TV documentaries, collaborating with her son Hugo Cassirer on the television film Choosing Justice: Allan Boesak. She was responsible for the script of the 1989 BBC film, Frontiers, and for four of the seven screenplays for a television drama based on her own short stories, entitled The Gordimer Stories 1981-82. She has also published, in forty languages, thirteen novels and ten short story collections.

Her first short story was published at the age of fifteen in the liberal Johannesburg magazine, Forum, and during her twenties, her stories appeared in many local magazines. In 1951 the New Yorker took one of her short stories. Her short story collections include "A Soldier's Embrace" (1980); "Something Out There" (1984); and "Jump and Other Stories" (1991). Loot (2003), is a collection of ten short stories widely varied in theme and place.

Nadine Gordimer's subject matter in the past has been the effect of apartheid on the lives of South Africans and the moral and psychological tensions of life in a racially-divided country, which she often wrote about by focusing on oppressed non-white characters. She was an ardent opponent of apartheid and refused to accommodate the system, despite growing up in a community in which it was accepted as normal. Her work has therefore served to chart, over a number of years, the changing response to apartheid in South Africa.

+ BIO: Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott was born in 1930 in the town of Castries in Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. The experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott's life and work. Both his grandmothers were said to have been the descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Derek and his twin brother, Roderick, were only a few years old. His mother ran the town's Methodist school.

After studying at St. Mary's College in his native island and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Walcott moved in 1953 to Trinidad, where he has worked as theatre and art critic. At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962).

In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays. Walcott has been an assiduous traveller to other countries but has always, not least in his efforts to create an indigenous drama, felt himself deeply-rooted in Caribbean society with its cultural fusion of African, Asiatic and European elements. For many years, he has divided his time between Trinidad, where he has his home as a writer, and Boston University, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

Harvard Du Bois Institute
African American Culture Series
Nobel Laureates Series