A review of Wole Soyinka's (pictured) new autobiography, You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir, appeared in last weekend's FT magazine. The reviewer, who is the FT's Africa editor, levels the same accusations at Wole Soyinka that very many people make - that he has a tendency to grandiloquence. I agree. I haven't read the complete works of Soyinka, but I've read enough of his articles to make have an informed opinion. He is obviously a man who has words aplenty beneath his statically charged hair, but only very few people and others employed by the OED have such a large vocabulary. Having a large vocabulary isn't even a problem, but Soyinka sometimes uses a scattergun approach when using words, very few bullets hit the target, and the audience can get lost.
Now, I'm a lover of words and their usage, but the context has to be right. And this definitely isn't some reverse snobbery against people who know more words than I do (okay, so what if it is?), but just an observation of Soyinka and his ability to kill a story with his use of words. The arts should invite people into a world, rather than exclude them. But perhaps he writes the way he does because his duty, as an author, is too explore the complexities of life, which invariably involves the use of complex language.
All this though, doesn't detract from the fact that he is a very fine writer, one of the finest ever from Africa. My love of the theatre really started when I played Chume in a school prodcution of The Trials of Brother Jero. Great writers are always prescient to the point of spookiness, and the Jero plays still apply to today's Nigeria. His Reith Lectures in 2004 sparkled with wit and candour, and if nothing else, is testament to his worldwide appeal. Even though I'm not the greatest fan of autobiographies (huge ego trips, David Beckham already has three at age 31), I will be reading Set Forth.
The Guardian's Maya Jaggi wrote a very good profile of Wole Soyinka in November 2002.