Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria.
After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he took his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, "The 1960 Masks" and in 1964, the "Orisun Theatre Company", in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months untill 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.
The fact that Wole Soyinka has lived to write so much about the African experience is a miracle. Throughout his long and productive career, Soyinka's politics have placed him in danger repeatedly. His upbringing reflected both African and Western influences, and the conflict and interaction between these two forces would occupy much of his writing, particularly in the play Death and the King's Horseman. Through drama, poetry, essays, and autobiographies, Soyinka has documented not only the struggles of his homeland of Nigeria but of the African continent as a whole. His works earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, and he used the occasion to highlight the plight of fellow activist Nelson Mandela. Soyinka's life has been so full of intrigue and accomplishment that he has published several memoirs in which the hardships of the African nation overlap with Soyinka's own personal evolution.
Soyinka was imprisoned for nearly two years during the Biafran Civil War in the late 1960s. A few years after his release, he published a book chronicling the experience titled The Man Died: Prison Notes.
During a period of political unrest in the mid 1990s, Soyinka lived in exile in the United States and taught at Emory University.
In addition to his prolific writing career, Soyinka has founded numerous theatrical groups, including Nineteen-Sixty Masks and Guerilla Unit.
One of Soyinka's most famous theatrical works was Opera Wonyosi, an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.
Soyinka has taught at numerous universities around the world, most recently as a literature professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.