Biyi Bandele

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Biyi Bandele

Biyi Bandele (born Biyi Bandele-Thomas; 1967) is a Nigerian novelist, playwright and filmmaker. Bandele is one of the most versatile and prolific of the UK-based Nigerian writers, having turned his hands to theatre, journalism, television, film, and radio, as well as the fiction with which he made his name. He lives in London.

Nigeria to London[edit]

Biyi Bandele was born to Yoruba parents in Kafanchan, Northern Nigeria, in 1967. His father was a veteran of the Burma Campaign while Nigeria was still part of the British Empire. Bandele spent the first eighteen years of his life in the northern part of the country being most at home in the Hausa cultural tradition. Later on, he moved to Lagos then studied drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and finally left for London in 1990. A precocious and intuitive playwright, his talent was recognised early on and he won the International Student Playscript competition of 1989 with an unpublished play, before claiming the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for an unpublished collection of poems.


As a playwright, Bandele has worked with the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as writing radio drama and screenplays for television. His plays are: Rain; Marching for Fausa (1993); Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought (1994); Two Horsemen (1994), selected as Best New Play at the 1994 London New Plays Festival; Death Catches the Hunter and Me and the Boys (published in one volume, 1995); and Oroonoko, an adaptation of Aphra Behn's seventeenth-century novel of the same name. Brixton Stories, Bandele's stage adaptation of his own novel The Street (1999), premiered in 2001 and was published in one volume with his play, Happy Birthday Mister Deka, which premiered in 1999.

He was the Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, in 2000–2001. He also acted as Royal Literary Fund Resident Playwright at the Bush Theatre from 2002 to 2003.

Bandele has written of the profound impact on him made by the first drama he ever saw, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, which he saw on a hire-purchase television set in a railway town in northern Nigeria:

And so although I had yet to set foot outside Kafanchan, although I knew nothing about postwar British society, or the Angry Young Men, or anything about Osborne when I met Jimmy Porter on the screen... there was no need for introductions: I had known Jimmy all my life.

I sometimes ask myself these days why that strange play made such a big impression on me that night over 20 years ago. I think it's because Look Back in Anger derives its power to startle or to repel, and its universality, not from the literal-realism of its narrative but from the sheer verve of Osborne's pathology of the human, his bloody-minded reverse-humanism. The veracity of the world he has created is poetic, not literal; he deals not in road signs but in symbols.

...Jimmy Porter no longer impresses me in fiction or in life, but the lesson I learned watching Look Back in Anger has stayed with me. Great theatre is the telling of a truthful lie, defined by the degree to which facts of the mind are made manifest in a fiction of matter. It derives its universality not from catering to the lowest common denominator but by being specific and local. In the universe of the imagination to which we all belong, we may not always know where we are going, but we require no visas to go there and we need not worry about packing. The name of the place is home.[1]


Biyi Bandele's novels, which include The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond (1991) and The Street (1999), are rewarding reading, capable of wild surrealism and wit as well as political engagement. His 2007 novel, Burma Boy, has been described as "a fine achievement"[2] and is lauded for providing a voice for previously unheard Africans.


  • The Man Who Came in From the Back of Beyond, Bellew, 1991
  • The Sympathetic Undertaker: and Other Dreams, Bellew, 1991
  • Marching for Fausa, Amber Lane Press, 1993
  • Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought, Amber Lane Press, 1994
  • Two Horsemen, Amber Lane Press, 1994
  • Death Catches the Hunter/Me and the Boys, Amber Lane Press, 1995
  • Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (adaptation), 1999
  • Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (adaptation), Amber Lane Press, 1999
  • The Street, Picador, 1999
  • Brixton Stories/Happy Birthday, Mister Deka, Methuen, 2001
  • Burma Boy, Jonathan Cape, 2007


  • 1989 – International Student Playscript Competition – Rain
  • 1994 – London New Play Festival – Two Horsemen
  • 1995 – Wingate Scholarship Award
  • 1998 – Peggy Ramsay Award
  • 2000 – EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) for Best Play – Oroonoko


His directorial debut film Half of a Yellow Sun was selected to be screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival,[3] and received a "rapturous reception".[4]


External links[edit]