Published 25 June 2015 by Max Benatar

Interview: Wole Soyinka

Literature Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka will join the scientific elite at the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and will undoubtedly bring a whole new perspective on science and society to the table. The Nigerian poet, playwright and novelist received the Nobel Prize in 1986. In his storied life he emigrated to Britain and the United States to both learn and teach, was caught up in the Nigerian Civil War of the seventies and developed into one of the world’s most outspoken advocates of secularism and humanism.

His upcoming lecture at Lindau ‘When Survival Seems Learning Enough’ is one of the most highly anticipated events of the meeting programme. The Lindau Blog’s Max Benatar had the chance to pose some questions to Wole Soyinka. As expected, his answers were quite enjoyable.


Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize in literature 1986. Photo: Archive Badge
Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize in literature 1986. Photo: Archive Badge

Lindau Blog, Max Benatar: You are the second Nobel Laureate in Literature to ever visit the Lindau Meetings. What does it mean to you as a poet and writer to be invited to such a congregation of scientists? And how do you think the natural sciences and the arts benefit from each other?

Wole Soyinka: Arts and the Sciences are a natural symbiosis.  They stem from the same human existential impulse – exploration. Exploration of what lies beneath the surface, and re-confuguration of elements of what we call reality.  Imagining what could be, from what there is. The Arts are perhaps the more generous of the two, since they also celebrate and preserve the product in a limitless variety of expressions.  How often does one look at a product of technology and exclaim, involuntarily: This is a work of Art!

How do I feel when I am invited to a congregation of scientists?  I feel quite at home. When they break into their cultic scientific argot, I know when I’m not wanted and step out for a drink.


Max Benatar: Your lecture in Lindau is among the most highly anticipated ones. Its title is ‘When Survival Seems Learning Enough’. What can we expect?

Wole Soyinka: Sorry, no introductory statements. Then no one gets disappointed.


Max Benatar: Science in Africa: Where do you see opportunities as well as limitations for the future?

Wole Soyinka: Limitations are mainly funding. This of course is related to lack of leadership and political vision. In my travels, I stumble over African scientists wherever I go – virtually in all disciplines. Some of them are involved in NASA projects. Opportunities abound for African scientific minds. Nigerians in the secessionist state, Biafra, were snapped up by outside manufacturers after the Civil War. Pity they were never absorbed and encouraged to function as a scientific think tank within Nigeria.


Max Benatar: The Nobel Prize was awarded to you for being an author “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”. What would you say is today’s drama of existence?

Wole Soyinka: The beauty of that expression – for me, that is – “drama of existence” lies in the acknowledgement that existence itself is the drama of humanity. I have no idea if this represents what the academy had in mind but I have absorbed it as such, as an approximation of my artistic disposition and daily combat.


Max Benatar: The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings are about intercultural and intergenerational exchange. What is your message to the leading scientists of tomorrow?

Wole Soyinka: Message to leading scientists of tomorrow?  Simple. Don’t write us off, we who are the scientific illiterates of the world. We operate through the same creative impulse, the same exercise of imagination. Bear in mind however that scientific theories constantly implicate errors. To be scientific in practice requires the capacity to say, “Ooops, I goofed”. Don’t cover up, and don’t hesitate to send this old man news of your ‘breakthroughs”.

If I were sure I would pass the physicals, I would be on the next space shuttle to Mars or some other planet. I’ll leave the calculations and the navigational tasks to you while I bask in your ingenuity.  Find me a place in the capsule and watch me outdo Michael Jackson’s moonwalk to the music of the spheres.

Max Benatar: Professor Soyinka, thank you very much for your time!


Wole Soyinka’s lecture at the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting will take place on Wednesday, 1 July, 7pm at Lindau’s City Theatre. Additionally, the citizens of Lindau will have the opportunity to enjoy a reading by and get the chance to meet Wole Soyinka one day later, on Thursday, 2 July, 8pm at the Old Town Hall.



Max Benatar

Max Benatar is a communications intern for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. He graduated in Communication and Cultural Management and is a great nature and outdoors lover.