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Early Soyinka By Bernth Lindfors

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Early Soyinka endeavors to reveal Wole Soyinka’s precocious talent as a writer of stories, dramas, essays, letters, humorous sketches and jokes, by presenting a collection of essays on writings by Soyinka composed prior to publication of his first books in 1963. The underlying argument in the book appears to be that Soyinka’s early works cannot be considered as “juvenilia or immature scribblings” for they already display a high command of language and acceptable formal structures.

The introduction lays out the background of the book when Bernth Lindfors attempts to settle a score with Biodun Jeyifo and Soyinka. Lindfors first retells Jeyifo’s position in Wole Soyinka: Politics, Poetics and Postcolonialism (2004), in which the latter identified Lindfors as one “who, almost alone among students of Soyinka’s writings, has been obsessed with his literary juvenilia, hoping therein to find materials to prove Soyinka was once a rookie writer, a neophyte artist, even if his rise to fame seemed instantaneous and meteoric.” Then, Lindfors reveals Soyinka’s misunderstanding of his efforts to demonstrate that Soyinka’s earliest writings were not the “awkward fumblings of a neophyte artist but the handiwork of a skilled craftsman who could articulate original ideas with fluency, precision and persuasiveness.” Soyinka had apparently taken issue with Lindfors in his essay “The Critic and Society: Barthes, Leftocracy and Other Mythologies,” by branding the latter as a “hagiographer extraordinary, who re-creates my juvenilia, in the old University College of Ibadan; every page of his essay contains at least one inaccuracy of time and place and a series of absurd attributions.” Lindfors’ probable purpose in bringing out these two misinterpretations of his interest in that early expressive body of work is to show the reason why many critics have refrained from studying Soyinka’s writings prior to publication of A Dance of the Forests, The Lion and the Jewel, and Three Plays in 1963. By considering these first published works as the starting point for an exploration of Soyinka’s talent and personality, those critics have been “studying the growth of a tree without examining its roots.” Early Soyinka aims then at putting things right by studying the growth of Soyinka from a close examination of his roots.

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