Literary Celebrity and Political Activism: Wole Soyinka’s Nobel Prize Lecture and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle

Karin Berkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In 1986, the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. This article considers the role of the Nobel Prize in the construction, promotion and cementing of literary celebrity, addressing the ways in which the prize augments Soyinka’s literary and political renown, already substantial at the time of the award. The article takes as its focus Soyinka’s Nobel Prize lecture and his decision to leverage the global platform afforded him to highlight the struggle against apartheid. The lecture is structured around a refusal to concede the exceptionalism of the South African state, and around a framing of apartheid as a pan-African catastrophe. In the Nobel Prize lecture, Soyinka levels a comprehensive accusation against European racism which he conceives as directly implicated in the ideological underpinning of apartheid policies. Dedicating the address to Mandela and taking his life as a paradigm, Soyinka uses his own presence in Stockholm as a subversive supplement to Mandela’s absence and addresses the crimes of apartheid both within their particular temporal and geographical context and as a means to expose the global scourge of racism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-86
Number of pages14
JournalCritical Arts
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Critical Arts.


This work was supported by European Research Council [European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007–2013)/ERC Grant Agreement no. 615564] The author thanks Professor Louise Bethlehem for her guidance and incisive remarks, and Dr. Tal Zalmanovich for her helpful comments.

FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme615564
European Research Council
Seventh Framework ProgrammeFP/2007–2013


    • Nelson Mandela
    • Nobel Prize
    • Wole Soyinka
    • apartheid
    • celebrity activism
    • literary celebrity


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