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

Wole-Soyinka 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."

Ben Okri, poet and novelist

“It gives me the greatest pleasure to support Wole Soyinka’s nomination for Professor of Poetry: he is a massive cultural presence, and it would be wonderful if Oxford could provide him with a platform to speak in this way.”

Rowan Williams, poet and former Archbishop of Canterbury

“Individuals who will stand up for the rule of law against its foes, and who will take on the might of an oppressive State, are not only admirable - they are essential. Creating something beautiful to fight the ugliest of human rights abuses and pursuing justice through poetry is truly remarkable. The world is a better place for people like Wole Soyinka and there can be few people who would bring more to the role of Oxford Poetry Professor.”

Clare Algar, chief executive of Reprieve

"Soyinka’s poetry – like that of Brecht, Neruda and Darwish – carries its liberating charge in the abundance, wit, craft and lyricism, really in the rhythm and the beauty, of the lines themselves. He is a political poet in that he asserts the value of human life and revolts against the man-made circumstances which reduce it; and he does both those things by force of poetry."

David Constantine, poet and scholar

“Wole Soyinka would make a unique Oxford Professor of Poetry”

Tom Paulin. Poet and Critic

“It's wonderful news that Wole Soyinka has agreed to stand for Professor of Poetry. He will bring an African and a world perspective to a post that has tended to be the preserve of (mainly Oxbridge educated) British and American poets and critics. He would remind the insular British that a non-English poet does not simply mean a Scottish, Irish or American one. That would be good for Oxford and for Britain.”

Gabriel Josipovici, novelist and critic

“The Nobel-Prizewinning Wole Soyinka is more than a fit successor to Geoffrey Hill, to my mind he is the ideal and necessary choice. His poetry, plays and other writings speak from a world and era that are potently still a vital part of our ongoing postcolonial condition. We need to hear his engaged voice and Oxford needs to appoint him, for all that he has to tell us, and for its own standing in the world.”

Andrew McNeillie, poet and literary editor

 “Wole Soyinka is a poet and activist of world standing who has faced persecution and suffering with surpassing dignity. He is that rare thing: a great writer whose life and eloquence have come together in a valiant struggle for rights and freedom. His election would grace the University of Oxford.”

Ken Macdonald QC, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford

"Wole Soyinka is a poet of witness in his homeland whose moral, ethical and questioning mindset has guided his poetry and other writing. Such a voice, vigorous, lyrical and purposeful, actively generates hope and would greatly enhance the Oxford Professor of Poetry platform".

Gerard Smyth, Irish poet, poetry editor of The Irish Times and member of Ireland's Academy of Arts and Letters, Aosdana.

" Wole Soyinka's poetry, whether in the earliest verse or in the most recent Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known captures the private instincts while his well-known activism on various fronts reflect the public ones. Yet whatever lyricism we find in his writing is precisely what informs his political sensibilities, for the ethical choices he has made throughout his life have always demonstrated an ultimately aesthetic sensibility. Soyinka is with good reason considered one of the greats of world literature. A son of Africa he may be, but he is both by choice and inclination a gift to the world. He would make an electrifying and very influential Oxford Professor of Poetry."

Ato Quayson, Professor of English, University of Toronto

“A wonderful poet and a deserved Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka has also been a courageous fighter for human rights over several decades. Pursued and repeatedly imprisoned by dictators who feared him, his shining language of resistance has never dimmed and his sense of justice never faltered. Wole Soyinka's appointment would bring honour to the University of Oxford.”

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty

"Wole Soyinka was one of the most brilliant young writers discovered by the Royal Court Theatre in the 1950s when he was invited to become a member of the original “Writers’ Group.” In 1958 the Royal Court produced Soyinka’s “The Lion and the Jewel”. William Gaskill, who directed the play, wrote at that time “I’ve never met anyone White or Black who has that kind of command of language.” Nearly 60 years later: the Royal Court is the most important theatre for new writing in the world and Wole Soyinka is one of the great poets of our times. We are proud to support Wole Soyinka as the Oxford Professor of Poetry.

Elyse Dodgson, International Director, Royal Court Theatre

"Wole Soyinka is a giant of modern literature - and a man whose life and writing has proved how vitally poetry matters. He was imprisoned during the Biafran War, but continued to write, smuggling his poems out for publication. He would be a huge inspiration for the students and staff of Oxford and for poets and poetry across the country."

*Robert Macfarlane, scholar and writer

“I wholeheartedly endorse Wole Soyinka's candidacy for the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. I've treasured him as one of the greatest living writers since my college days in the early seventies. Soyinka is not only the most youthful and energetic octogenarian I know, but also a true man of world letters, especially in the English-speaking world. It would be a shame indeed should Oxford University forgo this unique opportunity to be honoured by Wole Soyinka’s physical presence and poetic wisdom.”

Rita Dove (Former Poet laureate of the United States).

Wole Soyinka is quite simply one of the great names of contemporary literature.  Oxford would be mad not to endorse his nomination as its Professor of Poetry.  In my long experience of his work and of the man himself I have absolutely no doubt that he would be conscientious in the role, illuminating in his lectures, and link the university in unexpectedly exciting ways with many corners of the world.  When I ran the Africa Centre in London he supported our work and in subsequent years when I was Director of Literature at Arts Council England and then at the British Council I always found Wole added vitality and intellectual stamina to any event in which he agreed to participate.  I hope Oxford will not look a gift horse in the mouth.'

Alastair Niven, formerly Director-General of the Africa Centre in London, Director of Literature at the Arts Council, and Director of Literature at the British Council

"I am delighted that Wole Soyinka has allowed his name to be put forward for this post and that he has not issued some “statement” about poetry to flatter the hearts of some presumed electorate. The choice, as he knows, is literary, not political, and like his own tiger, he does not “shout his tigritude” but acts. He will be a wonderful professor. The suggestion made recently by a television presenter that his age is against him is exactly wrong."

* Michael Schmidt, poet, author, scholar and publisher

'More than fifty years ago, Wole Soyinka, in his poem "Telephone Conversation", portrayed with ferocious humour the dark ironies of a black man trying to rent a room from a white landlady. Hopefully now, in a better time, Oxford will welcome and learn from him.'

Amit Chaudhuri (Professor of English and Novelist)

“Wole Soyinka will bring a whole continent to Oxford and will inspire poets and the public alike with his urgent concerns for humanity as well as the highest artistic achievement. I think he is absolutely indispensable here.”

Carmen Bugan, poet

“As a poet, playwright, director, actor, novelist, and essayist, Soyinka has been eloquent and passionate in denouncing the injustices of both foreign and internal colonialism in Africa. His courage has repeatedly landed him in jail, with periods of solitary confinement. He has remained stubbornly, even heroically faithful not only to his vision of social justice but also to his often difficult, compressed, uncompromising art. A dazzling poet who is also a thunderous lecturer who has lived an extraordinary life of struggle, he will bring to the Professorship an exceptionally strong combination of gifts, skills, and knowledge.”

Jahan Ramazani, University Professor and Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English, University of Virginia

"Wole Soyinka is that rare thing; a master both of words and action. A concerned humanist in his politics and a committed activist in his writing, and vice versa. His writing alone more than qualifies him for the post, in addition to which he is the most wonderful speaker and original thinker. I can’t imagine a more fitting or overdue appointment. How very fortunate Oxford would be to have him."

Tamsin Oglesby, playwright

 "Soyinka’s corpus calls to mind the root of the word ‘poet’ in the Greek poiein, ‘to make’ or, as he puts it in the prefatory note to his early poem ‘Idanre’, the capacity of poetry to ‘erase known worlds’, boldly breaking apart to create the new. In his poems, mythology and modernity, tradition and experiment, ethereality and earthliness collide. Soyinka’s technical skill and range, intellectual bravery, and commitment to justice are unmatched by any poet of his generation. It would be a real privilege for the University of Oxford to have him as the next Professor of Poetry."

Natalya Din-Kariuki, Rhodes Scholar, University of Oxford

When Yale University conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters degree on Wole Soyinka in 1980, I was asked to write the formal citation, which reads as follows: 'Poet and playwright, in a language metaphorical and lyrical, you have redefined modern tragedy through a synthesis of Yoruba and Western tragic forms. In the face of certain persecution, you boldly accepted the role of spokesman against tyranny in all its pernicious forms. Yours is a constant cry against racism and fascism, and for justice and equality without regard for your personal safety. Undaunted force for freedom, master of the verbal arts, we at Yale salute you with the degree of Doctor of Letters.' To those words, I would only add that Soyinka is one of the very few people in the world who could have just as easily been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace as the Nobel Prize for Literature. And through his remarkably rich and ample corpus of books of poetry and drama, created over more than five decades, he has consistently pushed the limits of the English language to register an African metaphysical world view. As Penelope Gilliatt wrote in 1965 of his great play, 'The Road', 'Every decade or so, it seems to fall to a non-English dramatist to belt new energy into the English tongue….Wole Soyinka has done for our napping language what brigand dramatists from Ireland have done for centuries: booted it awake, rifled its pockets and scattered the loot into the middle of next week.' I can think of no better way to describe Soyinka’s magnificent poetic diction, and I can think of no candidate more worthy of the Professorship of Poetry at the University of Oxford than this truly great writer, whose works will be read for centuries to come."

Henry Louis Gates, Jr, The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University


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