Wole Soyinka has used his time in lockdown to write his first novel in almost 50 years. The Nigerian playwright and poet, who became the first African to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1986, published his widely celebrated debut novel, The Interpreters, in 1965. His second and most recent novel, Season of Anomy, was released in 1973.
Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, which will be published in Nigeria before the end of the year, will be his third. Soyinka’s Nigerian publisher Bookcraft, which called the novel “a narrative tour de force”, confirmed there are plans to publish the book internationally in early 2021. “This novel has got everything – friendship and betrayal; faith and treachery; hope and cynicism; murder, mayhem and no shortage of drama, all set against the backdrop of contemporary Nigeria,” said the publisher. “As you would expect from a Soyinka work, it’s got plenty of colourful characters, profound insights, witty commentary, and the most elegant language.”
Wole Soyinka said that the coronavirus-related lockdown had helped inspire new writing, as well as new theatrical work, with Soyinka planning to co-direct a revival of his play Death and the King’s Horseman in Lagos this December. “You just find yourself literally rolling from your desk to your bed to the dining table, back to the desk for five months of continuous writing. At the end of that exercise, when you finish that book, you will want to stretch your mind in a different direction,” he said. “So, with a combination of circumstances, it occurred to me that, wait a minute, it might not be a bad idea to do a production.”
The author and political activist was called “one of the finest poetical playwrights that have written in English” by the Nobel prize. He was held as a political prisoner in Nigeria in the 1960s, during which time he famously smuggled his poems out of prison on toilet paper. He went into exile after his release, returning to Nigeria in 1975 but leaving again in 1994 after his passport was confiscated by Sani Abacha, the military ruler of the time. He was sentenced to death in absentia, spending most of his exile teaching in the US. He returned to Nigeria in 1998 after Abacha’s death and destroyed his green card after the election of Donald Trump in 2016.