[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 19 (November 1973), pp. 1-2]
[Professor Soyinka receiving the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the Chancellor, HRH the Duchess of Kent, on Thursday 17 May, 1973 – image from ‘Nobel Prize for Leeds Graduate’, The Reporter (the University of Leeds), 258, 24 October 1986]
Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright and poet, who graduated from this University with a degree in English in 1957 was awarded the Honorary degree of D. Litt. in May 1973 by the University of Leeds.
The presentation address given by Mr Martin Banham of the School of English was as follows:
Your Royal Highness and Chancellor:
A character in a play by Wole Soyinka explains his limited vocabulary on the grounds that he only possesses the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. No such impediment has inhibited Soyinka himself, for since graduating from the University of Leeds with a degree in English in 1957 he has distinguished himself with words – as a poet, novelist and critic, but primarily as a playwright. Wole Soyinka is commonly regarded as the leading African dramatist of his generation, but it is clear that he is much more than this, for his work, in its satirical impact and sense of truth, its poetic vigour and craftsmanship, its range, concept and perception, declares Soyinka to be one of the major dramatic talents of our time.
In Nigeria, through his influence as a play director and a teacher, Wole Soyinka has done much to shape and inspire a living theatre that accommodates a remarkable range of activity, from Yoruba Opera to new playwriting. His example has, without doubt, been a significant influence in determining many young writers and artists to use the theatre as their medium. The acting companies Soyinka formed – the 1960 Masks and The Orisun Theatre – have given young actors and new audiences the chance of seeing and participating in work of national and international importance.
In his own work, from the gentle satire of The Trials of Brother Jero to the fierce statements of Madmen and Specialists, Soyinka has concerned himself with the world about him, and with the sad comedy of man. Like all true artists he discerns the fantastic tricks that man plays before high heaven and shows us what it is that ‘makes the angels weep’. For though Wole Soyinka‘s plays have their birth in the rich theatrical traditions and the lore of the Yoruba of western Nigeria, they have their relevance on a universal stage. Martin Esslin describes Wole Soyinka as one of the finest poetic playwrights who have ever written in English’ and adds: ‘It is high time that this is recognised.’
Your Royal Highness and Chancellor, I present to you Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka for the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.