wole soyinka//garden city literary festival


A conversation with Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was the highlight of the Garden City Literary Festival this year. He was billed in conversation with Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clezio, but the latter took ill and was unable to attend as planned, delivering a videotaped message that was broadcast at a press conference early yesterday.

Because the conversation was geared toward children, Soyinka began by reading a passage from Ake, a memoir of his early childhood, and taking questions from the reluctant, though very bright, group of children in attendance. He is a man fully self actualized, able to articulate his peculiar life as a boy reared in the village who went on to dominate the world literary stage. He talked about a range of things: the Yoruba books he read as a child; the games he played; how he wanted to be a pilot until he realized how much math was involved; his love of new media/technology, and how it can enhance and extend a love of literature/old media; and how he celebrated his last birthday in a zero-gravity chamber.

I am in awe of Prof Soyinka mostly for his enlightenment. There were a couple of perplexing questions from audience members who sought to confirm or deny his Christianity/belief in one Supreme God, as if to validate their appreciation for his work or find a reason to jettison him to the legion of gentiles polluting the world. Though Prof Soyinka could have dismissed them, he took the time to educate them on the multiple paths (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) to Godhead (as he called it), in a response that traversed Allah to Ogun, the Vedas to the Quran, and culminated in a stern rebuke of all those who kill and divide in the name of religion.

I appreciate not only the vastness of his spiritual universe, but also his patience and benevolence to share that universe with less enlightened others, encouraging them to critically analyze religious texts, their faith and motivation. I wasn't expecting him to cover that much ground, but it was a deep, rich, and fulfilling experience.

Looking forward to seeing Chinua Achebe at next year's festival. --AL.

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