News & Events

Selecting Oxford’s professor of poetry should not be trial by media

It’s time to change the system, argues Lucy Newlyn

July 9 2015

The election of the University of Oxford professor of poetry – won this year by Simon Armitage – is always of interest to the British press, for obvious reasons. With an electorate of more than 250,000 Oxonians scattered all over the world, this is a unique post that attracts candidates of the highest international standing. Even the bookies take an interest in predicting the results.

But should the appointment of a chair at Oxford be subject to this amount of pressure? Is it time the system was changed?

The press has a vested interest in stirring up unnecessary controversy. This year, for the second time in six years, a candidate of absolutely outstanding distinction has been subjected to disparaging remarks in the press. The negative comments made in The Sunday Times about Wole Soyinka – his age, “grandeur” and alleged lack of interest in the post – were regrettable in every way. Although he responded with characteristic wit and dignity, the commentary unquestionably caused personal hurt.


The Lumina Foundation which administers the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa based in Lagos, Nigeria with an office in Accra, Ghana, has announced the composition of the Jury for the 2016 -2018 period. The bi-annually given Prize which is also the biggest and open to all African writers residing on the continent and outside comes with a cash of $20,000, a citation at the awards ceremony in Lagos or a selected city in Africa. It honors Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature- Prof. Wole Soyinka who normally gives the Prize in the third week of July and is also to inspire a new generation of writers.

Endorsements for Wole Soyinka as the next Professor of Poetry at Oxford

If Wole Soyinka were to take up the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University it would be a great thing for the university, and a great thing for this country. Every time he visits our country he is given a great welcome. We love him dearly, and to have him sharing his wisdom and his art at such a prestigious university would be an inspiration to all of us. Ignore the bad mouthing, and let’s honour one of the world’s greatest living writers.

In times like these when we are spending so much time and energy looking inwards and being nationalistic, Wole Soyinka will help us reconnect with the world and be more outward looking. We really need him

Benjamin Zephaniah, poet

I wish to lend wholeheartedly my support to Wole Soyinka as Oxford Professor of Poetry. His presence would profoundly enrich the poetic and intellectual life of the university. He is one of the greatest literary figures of the age, distinguished and playful, whose grasp of the modern, classical, and African world would enable him to bring something very special to his professorship, his lectures, and his interaction with students. It cannot be said too strongly that this is a unique opportunity to bring a genuine legend of contemporary literature into your world. Looking back years later, it would give you cause to congratulate yourselves on a truly inspired choice.