Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has finally spoken out on the perceived literary rivalry between him and renowned novelist, Prof Chinua Achebe, saying while Achebe was a celebrated storyteller, he could not be described as ‘Father of African Literature.’
Speaking in an interview with Sahara Reporters ahead of the burial rites for the late Achebe, Soyinka asked his interviewers rhetorically as he responded, “Chinua’s place in the canon of world literature? Wherever the art of the story-teller is celebrated, definitely, assured.
“As you yourself have observed, Chinua himself repudiated such a tag (of being the father of African literature) he did study literature after all, bagged a degree in the subject. So, it is a tag of either literary ignorance or “momentary exuberance” ala [Nadine] Gordimer to which we are all sometimes prone.
“Those who seriously believe or promote this must be asked: have you the sheerest acquaintance with the literatures of other African nations, in both indigenous and adopted colonial languages?
“What must the francophone, lusophone, Zulu, Xhosa, Ewe etc. etc. literary scholars and consumers think of those who persist in such a historic absurdity? It’s as ridiculous as calling WS (Wole Soyinka) father of contemporary African drama! Or Mazisi Kunene father of African epic poetry. Or Kofi Awoonor father of African poetry. Education is lacking in most of those who pontificate.”
Soyinka further recalled that Achebe himself did not help matters when he at a time made a squint remark that fuelled controversies on the likelihood of rivalry between them.
“Chinua we have to be frank here also did not help matters. He did make one rather unfortunate statement that brought down the hornet’s nest on his head, something like: ‘The fact that Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize does not make him the Asiwaju (Leader) of African literature’. I forget now what provoked that statement. Certainly it could not be traced to any such pretensions on my part.
“I only recollect that it was in the heat of some controversy on a national issue, I think.” Soyinka also descended hard on the Heinemann’s African Writers Series of which Achebe was editor, saying the publishing outfit was ideally a ‘ghetto’ classification that did not deserve the rating accorded it.”
He faulted those comparing his style of writing with Achebe’s as largely un-informed, as he rationalised: “Unfortunately, some of Chinua’s cohorts decided that they had a mission to prosecute a matter regarding which they lacked any vestige of understanding or competence or indeed any real interest. It is however a life crutch for them and they cannot let go.
“What they are doing now and I urge them to end it shame-facedly – is to confine Chinua’s achievement space into a bunker over which hangs an unlit lamp labeled ‘Nobel’.
“Is this what the literary enterprise is about?” he queried. “Was it the Nobel that spurred a young writer, stung by Eurocentric portrayal of African reality, to put pen to paper and produce Things Fall Apart?”
On Achebe’s new book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, Soyinka said he missed a golden opportunity of taking him up before his death as circumstances did not permit.
“I was to have been present at his last Chinua Achebe symposium just a few months earlier together with Governor Fashola of Lagos. Something intervened and I was marooned in New York.”
Nonetheless, Soyinka offered some words on Achebe’s controversial last book: “Unfortunately, that chance of a last encounter was missed, so I don’t really wish to comment on the work at this point. It is however a book I wish he had never written that is, not in the way it was.
“There are statements in that work that I wish he had never made. The saddest part for me was that this work was bound to give joy to sterile literary aspirants like Adewale Maja-Pearce, whose self-published book self-respecting publishers having rejected his trash – sought to create a ‘tragedy’ out of the relationships among the earlier named ‘pioneer quartet’ and, with meanness aforethought, rubbish them all – WS (Wole Soyinka) especially.
“Chinua got off the lightest. A compendium of outright impudent lies, fish market gossip, unanchored attributions, trendy drivel and name dropping, this is a ghetto tract that tries to pass itself up as a product of research, and has actually succeeded in fooling at least one respectable scholar,”
THIS IS NOT THE BEST TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE BAD THINGS OF PROF.CHINUA ACHEBE. LET US BURY HIM,AND GIVE HIM THE HONOR HE DESERVES. TRIBALLY ,ETHNICALLY, REGIONALLY, NATIONALLY,AND GLOBALLY ACHEBE IS THE GRAND FATHER OF AFRICAN LITERATURE.
Don thank you very much, you are on point. All the same Proff did not say wrong but we (Nigerian’s) often forgo the truth for unnecessary lies as wole shoyika did.
Well achebe’s last book caused some controversies. bt neva d less , D writer’s legacy lives on
Achembe’s last book was controversial and condemed.But some of his books are good and applauded.One point that must be noted is that africa writers when started were not good as people wrongly believed but only had the idea of what to write the rest was the work of Publishers.if they were to write without editing by the publishers,they wouldn’t have received the kind of accolade received.”The gods are not to blame” by Prof Ola Rotimi,talks about the real africa practices and cultures but religion hasn’t allow us to dig deep into our cultures-why we’re without direction.Actually some childred born with bad,conflicting and crisis destinies.In those days we had ways of uncover these and then proffer solution just to ease the child’s life or eliminate the child with evil born.
when will the yorubas stop tribalism, soyinka must be a carward to have kept quete all these years untill achebe died for him to come up with these statements, u din’t talk ill of the dead
Am short of words about soyinka s utterances.why not keep mute now since he couldnt say this things while the man lived. Does he want to diminish the praises and recognition accorded to Achebe. No need for that now. if he feels putting out someones light makes his to shine brighter,we will live to see.
One of the major things that can make d world a better place to be is the strength to say things the way they are with acute disregard for sentiments. Achebe is my hero. Mere mention of him delights my soul. Probably because his area of specialisation (prose and poetry) is where I av strength. Soyinka of d same tribe wit me, I respect and highly esteem, but not my hero. But unfortunately when Soyinka frankly speaks, and professionaly too, about Achebe’s work it’s quickly tagged a statement borne out of tribal sentiment. Igbos and Yorubas lately xchange crossfires of tribal superiority across diferent sites as if this latest devpt is the most needful strategy now that we clamour for one Nigeria. And to face it, as a realist and not as one taking sides, the stand of both Achebe and Soyinka during the tribal war vividly reflected who was for one Nigeria and a tribalist. However if my convinction is that Achebe was not totally healed of tribal traits, before his death, yet it has not removed an iota of the heroic status he bears in my face even now after his death. But things must be said d way they really are. I believe this helps humanity a lot. Zidane was a world class footballer. I dearly love him. I love no other footballer like him. But this has not eroded the fact that 200yrs behind, and 200yrs to come, according to my claim, there is no footballer lyk Messi. Yet I don’t particularly fancy Messi whom I don’t equaly dislike. Then I think the earlier we begin to apply sincere and objective sense of judgement to issues in Nigeria, shunning tribal sentiments, the better for us. As far as am corncerned, Soyinka not only in this interview, but in many other fronts has reflected his honour for the person and the literary genius in Achebe, and other things he said, perceived as debasing Achebe by Achebe’s kinsmen were frank talks which he wud have said were Achebe alive and be of the same tribe with him. He was only realistic and not tribalistic, and not a means to seek superiority of place over Achebe. That wud amount to thoughtless effort, for come to think of it, both of them have made their indelible marks in d literary world. But this question will be pertinent here, and finding answers to it will sincerely help we present generation of Nigeria, particularly Igbos and Yorubas. What do we really want? Is it one Nigeria or a divided Nigeria where Biafra can be on its own? Then if recent crossfires btw Yoruba and Ibo bordering on Awolowo, Azikwe, Achebe, Soyinka etc is anything to go by, no one should deceive me that we are seeking one Nigeria, and that Biafra/Oduduwa Republic war is not going on, though without arms but with pen this time around