The first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1986, Soyinka spoke before an audience of more than 150 people filling a Penn Museum auditorium and many more online in the streamed, hybrid event on March 22.
Interim President Wendell Pritchett said the study of Africa “is fundamentally important to understanding the world we live in and the planet we hope to nurture and protect” and “is relevant to every facet of contemporary life.
“This inaugural Distinguished Lecture in African Studies sets our course at Penn for greater attention and deeper integration of Africa, its peoples, cultures, climate, and contributions in our own outlook and understanding,” Pritchett said.
Camille Z. Charles, professor of sociology, Africana studies, and education, said in an introduction that the annual lecture will highlight “the most important voices and scholarship in African studies today” and that she could think of “no greater voice, no greater presence” than Soyinka as the inaugural guest.
From Nigeria, Soyinka has authored more than 40 works, including plays, novels, poetry, essays, and memoirs and is the recipient of numerous national and international honors. His latest novel, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth,” was published in September. He is an emeritus professor at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria; has taught at several universities in the United States and England; and has received several academic fellowships.
Now 87, he lectures internationally and continues to play an active role with artistic, academic, and human rights organizations. During the lecture, he described his views on the complex history of the World Black and African Festival of the Arts and Culture (FESTAC), the next to be held May 23-29 in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Previous festivals were held in 1966, 1977, and 2010.