The son of a school inspector, Wole Soyinka was born in Abeokuta, Western Nigeria, in 1934. He was educated in Ibadan and graduated in English from Leeds University, England, in 1958. He studied the theatre in London (1958-59), where his first play, The Invention, was produced. In 1960 he returned to Ibadan.
He eventually became Professor of English Litearture till 1967 when, charged with pro-Biafra activities during the Civil War, he was imprisoned at Kaduna (1967-69). In 1969 he became director of the School of Drama at the University of Ibadan. In 1986 he was the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Under threat of arrest from the Nigerian Government, he fled the country in 1994 and returned home only after the death of Nigeria's military dictator (1998).
His best play include Death and king's Horseman (staged 1976) and A play of Giants (1984).
Soyinka's theatre is often defined as "total theatre", its a kind of theatre which incorporates into the text elements drawn from his own Yoruba culture, such as dance, mimicry, music. It also shows the influence of modern European drama.
Soyinka has an excellent sense of drama rhythm. He writes in English, fusing European cultural traditions with Yoruba tradition. He's plot are strong and intriguing and the narration often moves back and forth in time.
His plays are rich in imagery and myth, while his language , full of idioms derived from the native Yoruba speech, is also imagery by puns, witty wordplay, allusions and references, which favour the ironic and satirical slant of certain scenes. Besides the usual themes common to other African writers (such as daily life, corruption, black or white oppression, clash of cultures, the disruption of pre-colonial reality, etc..) Soyinka also focuses on problems which are not limited to Africa, but have a universal appeal.