Africa's first Nobel laureate in literature visits China

Updated: 2012-10-29 17:24

By Mei Jia (

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Africa's first Nobel laureate in literature visits China

African Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka [Photo by Mei Jia/]

Wole Soyinka — the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature — kicked off his first visit to China on Monday.

The playwright and poet, born in Nigeria in 1934, will stay for a week. He will give three speeches in Beijing and tour Shanghai and Suzhou briefly after an invitation by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Renmin University.

Soyinka said at a speech at CASS that he has a strong interest in China's culture. "I'm greedy when it comes to new experiences," he said.

Soyinka won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for being a writer "who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence".

Regarding the prize, he told a group of reporters before Monday's speech that "it's just a Nobel Prize, but people don't believe me when I say this."

He said he noticed the huge celebrations after Chinese writer Mo Yan won the same prize on Nov 11. "We had a massive celebration back in my country too when I won," he said.

"Of course the money of the prize is important for a poor writer like me," he said, adding that he used the money to build a house to be used as a retreat for other writers and expand his wine collection.

He has been associated with political activities that overthrew British colonialism and brought down dictators. Being imprisoned and expelled at times, Soyinka has a rich life experience that he presents in his plays and poems.

"Politics is one part of my writing," Soyinka said. "But political fashion changes, literature remains."

With degrees in English literature, he's also been teaching in British and American universities, including Yale, Harvard and Oxford.

"In my class of comparative literature, I've expanded the reading material from colonial literature to Asian literature, which includes Chinese and Japanese literary works," he said.

During the visit, Soyinka will also meet Chinese writers such as Yan Lianke, Xu Zechen and Zhang Yueran.