Exile deepened Nobel author's desire to "fix" Nigeria

Tue Jan 26, 2010 11:35pm EST
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By Rina Chandran

JAIPUR, India (Reuters Life!) - Living in exile often drives authors to cut all ties with their homeland, but for Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, being away from Nigeria just made him more eager to return to fix what he believes ails his country.

Soyinka, who in 1986 became the first African author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, has been dubbed the "conscience" of Nigeria, speaking out against dictatorship and corruption in his country and its African neighbors, despite the risk to his own life and safety.

"Some writers, when they are exiled, their circumstances are so bad, they literally shake the dust off their feet and never want to come back," he said at a discussion at the Jaipur Literature Festival, billed as Asia's biggest literary event.

"I, on the other hand, when I was kicked out, used euphemisms to describe my condition, saying 'I'm on political sabbatical'. I couldn't wait to get back. I was never totally comfortable outside Nigeria," he said.

"When in exile you see the situation in your home from the outside, and get even angrier: you see how people elsewhere are allowed to be creative, logical and progressive and think, why can't things be the same?"

Soyinka, now 75, has played an active role in Nigeria's political history and remain as outspoken as ever about what he believes ails his country, despite being jailed for it several times in the past.

He was arrested in 1967 for writing an article appealing for a ceasefire during Nigeria's civil war, spending nearly two years in a tiny cell as a political prisoner after the government accused him of conspiring with the rebels.

During his imprisonment, he wrote poems on tissue paper and recounted his experiences in the autobiographical "The Man Died: Prison Notes."   Continued...