Soyinka: How Winning Nobel Prize Affected Me Negatively


By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

Celebrated Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, at the weekend in Kaiama, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of  Bayelsa State, narrated how winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 negatively affected his life.

The professor of Comparative Literature, who was taking questions from students of the Ijaw National Academy and other schools in the state, said the award had robbed him of his privacy and anonymity.

Answering a question by one of the students, the Ogun-born playwright noted that the pressure as a Nobel Laureate had made him reorganise some of his priorities.

Asked if it had affected him, he said: “Yes, and in a negative way. Very often I cannot do the things I really want to do because I have lost what is one of the greatest gifts, and that is anonymity.

“It means one’s constituency has been enlarged. Your priorities change not because you want to, but because of the pressure,” he explained.

While paraphrasing Bernard Shaw, a 1925 Laureate himself, Soyinka explained that while the effect was not always negative, it had nevertheless created its own challenges.

“Let me summarise by quoting Bernard Shaw when he was awarded the Nobel Prize very late in life: ‘It takes a devilish mind to invent such a destructive thing as dynamite, but it must have been a diabolical thing from hell who invented the Nobel Prize,’ and I agree with him sometimes, not all the time,” he added.

On what it takes to win the prize, the poet and dramatist said it was not necessarily the quantity but the “taste” of the literary work.

“I assure you that it is not the quantity, it’s the quality and very often the relevance and finally the literary taste of that particular work. Because literature is very subjective and very often a lot that happens depends on what I call the taste of any jury deciding on the work.

“So, yes, it might be the quality, it is also the relevance, but ultimately, whether we like it or not, it is the taste of the jury which is deciding on the work of art,” he explained.

He told the students of the school, a free boarding, free tuition institution, that how literary minds decide to go about their work depends on the individual.

“It’s a very difficult question. Sometimes an idea sticks in the mind and it continues to gestate and you may even think you have forgotten about it, but it’s actually operating in the subconscious.

“You go out and do other things, but one day you get the structure through which to narrate the idea and the two things come together. But the idea is (always) there. It may be at home or something you read in the newspaper,” he explained.