Achebe’s comment on my Nobel prize disappointed me – Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka says he was disappointed by a comment made by the late novelist Chinua Achebe shortly after he (Soyinka) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.

Soyinka made his known in a conversation with an American-based Nigerian novelist Okey Ndibe which was aired on Channels Television’s Book Club.

In the course of the conversation, Ndibe recalled how Achebe, at one time, said: “The Nobel Prize did not make one the Asiwaju of African Literature.”

He then asked Soyinka how he took that statement at the time.

Soyinka said: “The subject was not even literature when he (Achebe) made that statement and so I was disappointed that he created a nexus between my normal sociopolitical life and my normal way of articulating an opinion.

“It was almost like because I won the Nobel Prize, I have no right to offer, to do what I used to do before all my life. I responded to it, even though I wanted to make light of it. I was a little bit disappointed and I didn’t see the necessity; that particular subject, which was under contention, didn’t relate to literature. So, it was like, oh, am I now to carry this burden for the rest of my life? That people will think I am doing what I used to do before simply because I now have a Nobel Prize.”

Prof Soyinka said ignorance was the reason why literary enthusiasts often segregate themselves into either Soyinka camp or Achebe camp.

“Everybody feels they have a right to pronounce authoritatively, not only on the products but on the producers of the products and their positions in society,” he said.

On his experience after bagging the Nobel prize, Soyinka said, “It has bred demands, expectations; it has bred even envy in some areas – one can cope with that – antagonism where totally unnecessary, uncalled for. But that’s part of human life; any kind of achievement does that.”