Better known as a dramatist, Prof. Femi Osofisan, who turned 75 on June 16, is a literary luminary whose work transcends the stage. Also, his cultural involvements go beyond literature. He is a respected public intellectual, largely as a result of his contributions as a newspaper essayist.
“This question of being a playwright… It just happens that I write more plays than perhaps I write other things,” he explained in an interview. “My first published work was in fact a novel, Kolera College… My first work to win an award was also a book of poems, Minted Coins. So it always depends on the feeling at the moment.”
In addition, he expressed his thoughts on the character of the different literary genres, saying, “I just tend to feel that plays, when you are writing political issues, plays are more capable of expressing views and impact on the audience and I tend to feel that poetry is more retrospective. When you are meditating you look at poetry. Novels take more time to reflect on. Yes, I’m a playwright but I also write poetry, so it depends.”
His rich harvest of literary awards testifies to his stature as a writer. Morountodun and Other Plays won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Award for Drama in 1983. Minted Coins, a collection of poetry written under the pseudonym Okinba Launko, won the ANA Poetry Prize and the Regional Commonwealth Poetry Award for a First Collection in 1987. He won the 1993 ANA Award for Drama for his book, Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest. He was shortlisted for the prestigious USA-based Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2000.
He is also a distinguished literary critic, and the first African and first black to win the Thalia Prize of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) in 2016. Other honours that underline his literary celebrity include Officier de l’Ordre Nationale de Mérite, Rép. de France (1999); Nigerian National Order of Merit in the Humanities (NNOM) (2004); Fonlon-Nichols Prize for Literature and the Struggle for Human Rights (2006); and Fellow, Nigerian Academy of the Arts (FNAL) (2006).
It is not for nothing that critic Biodun Jeyifo described Osofisan as “the most African playwright of the post-colonial era…the most prolific playwright on the African continent” in a lecture delivered at University of Ibadan in 2006. Noted for their African essence, Osofisan’s plays are among the most staged in Nigeria, and have been performed in several countries, where he has also held teaching or research fellowships, including Japan, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Lesotho, China, USA, Canada, UK, France and South Africa. His probably best-known play, Once upon Four Robbers (1991), has been widely anthologised.
Osofisan has written more than 60 plays, four novels, five volumes of poetry and many critical essays. His creative work attracted international attention following a performance of his 1997 play Many Colours Make the Thunder King at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, USA. Described as a playwright who does “total drama,” he uses various theatrical resources to communicate his message.
Notably, he writes with a social conscience, reflecting unmistakable activism in favour of the downtrodden. According to him, “I am concerned with what is happening at the moment. I take a look at it and say we can’t go on like this… You have a society with so much injustice, that society cannot be a settled society and in our society where there is so much corruption nobody is happy with that.”
His stint as General Manager and Chief Executive of the National Theatre, Lagos, showed his administrative capability, which he also demonstrated in his roles as President of ANA (1988-1990) and PEN, Nigeria (2004-2010).
He is Emeritus Professor of Drama, University of Ibadan, where he retired as a professor in 2011. He studied for his first degree at the same university, and did post-graduate studies at the Sorbonne, Paris.
Osofisan deserves to be celebrated not only for his work as a literator but also his progressive philosophy. We congratulate him on his milestone and wish him many happy returns.
culled from The Nation Editorial