Niyi Osundare is a leading African poet, dramatist, linguist, and literary critic. Born on March 12, 1947, in Ikere-Ekiti, Nigeria, his poetry is influenced by the oral poetry of his Yoruba culture, which he capaciously hybridizes with other poetic traditions of the world, including African American, Latin American, Asian, and European.
Osundare is a champion of free speech and his creative and critical writings are closely associated with political activism, decolonization, black internationalism, and the environment. He is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Tchicaya U Tam'si Poetry Prize, and the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize (twice). In 1991, Osundare became the first Anglophone African poet to win the Noma Award (Africa's most prestigious book award), and in 1998, he was awarded the Fonlon/Nichols Prize for his "excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa." In 2014, he was admitted to the National Order of Merit, his country's highest honor for intellectual distinction and creative achievement. Osundare is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans.
Family and education
Osundare gained degrees in English at the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA), and York University, Canada (PhD, 1979). Previously professor (from 1989) and Head of English (1993–97) at the University of Ibadan, he became professor of English at the University of New Orleans in 1997. Osundare has a wife, Kemi, and three children, two girls and a son who still lives in Nigeria. His deaf daughter is the reason Niyi settled in the United States. She could not go to school in Nigeria so they found a school in the U.S. for her, and moved so as to be closer to her. He has been used in many schools as an example of a poet.
He has always been a vehement champion of the right to free speech and is a strong believer in the power of words, saying, "to utter is to alter". Osundare is renowned for his commitment to socially relevant art and artistic activism and has written several open letters to the former President of Nigeria (Olusegun Obasanjo), whom Osundare has often publicly criticised.
Osundare believes that there is no choice for an African poet but to be political:
"You cannot keep quiet about the situation in the kind of countries we find ourselves in, in Africa. When you wake up and there is no running water, when you have a massive power outage for days and nights, no food on the table, no hospital for the sick, no peace of mind; when the image of the ruler you see everywhere is that of a dictator with a gun in his hand; and, on the international level, when you live in a world in which your continent is consigned to the margin, a world in which the colour of your skin is a constant disadvantage, everywhere you go – then there is no other way than to write about this, in an attempt to change the situation for the better."
Under the rule of the dictator General Sani Abacha (1993–98), Osundare regularly contributed poems to a Nigerian national newspaper (now part of the collection Songs of the Season) that criticised the regime and commented upon the lives of people in Nigeria. As a result, he was frequently visited by security agents and asked to explain his poems and to whom they referred:
"By that time I realized that the Nigerian security apparatus had become quite 'sophisticated', quite 'literate' indeed!"
"A couple of my students at the University of Ibadan had become informers; a few even came to my classes wired. And when I was reading abroad, someone trailed me from city to city. At home, my letters were frequently intercepted."
In 1997, he accepted a teaching and research post at the University of New Orleans. In 2005 Osundare was caught in Hurricane Katrina, and he and his wife were stuck in their attic for 26 hours. Their neighbour, who at the time was driving by in his boat, heard their shouts for help. They were rescued and bounced around from rescue shelters until they ended up in Rindge, New Hampshire, where Osundare could get a teaching job as a professor at Franklin Pierce College and things settled down.
Honors and recognition
Osundare is a holder of numerous awards for his poetry, as well as the Fonlon/Nichols award for "excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa".
His 60th birthday literary fete took place at venues in Ikere-Ekiti, Ibadan and Lagos state of Nigeria in March 2007.
His poem "Not My Business" is compulsory study in the AQA A syllabus for General Certificate of Secondary Education English Language.
In 2011, an Associate Professor of English at The University of Lagos, Christopher Anyokwu, wrote an article on Niyi Osundare's Poetry and the Yoruba World View, where he analysed the use of Indigenous Yoruba concepts found in Niyi Osundare's texts. The associate professor, went further to assume that Osundare unified in his work the concepts and traditions of Yoruba culture and Marxist ideology.
In December 2014, Osundare was awarded the Nigerian National Merit Award for academic excellence.
Literary prizes and awards
- First Prize, Western State of Nigeria Poetry Competition (1968)
- 1981 Major Book Prize and Letter of Commendation, BBC Poetry Competition (1981)
- Honorable Mention, Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (1986)
- Honorable Mention, Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (1989)
- Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize (1986)
- Joint-Winner, Overall Commonwealth Poetry Prize (1986)
- Kwanza Award (1991)
- Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (the first Anglophone African poet to receive the award) (1991)
- Cadbury/ANA Poetry Prize (Nigeria’s highest poetry prize). Also won the maiden edition in 1989 (1994)
- Fonlon/Nichols Prize for "Excellence in Literary Creativity Combined with Significant Contributions to Human Rights in Africa"; African Literature Association (ALA)’s most distinguished award) (1998)
- The Spectrum Books Award to The Eye of the Earth as “One of Nigeria’s Best 25 Books in the Last 25 Years” (2004)
- The Tchicaya U Tam'si Prize for African Poetry (regarded as Africa's highest poetry prize) (2008)
- Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (Nigeria's highest award for academic excellence) (2014)
- Songs from the Marketplace (1983)-
- Village Voices (1984)-
- The Eye of the Earth (1986, winner of a Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the poetry prize of the Association of Nigerian Authors)-
- Moonsongs (1988)-
- Songs of the Season (1999)-
- Waiting Laughters (1990, winner of the Noma Award)-
- Selected Poems (1992)-
- Midlife (1993)-
- Thread in the Loom: Essays on African Literature and Culture (2002)-
- The Word is an Egg (2002)-
- The State Visit (2002, play)-
- Pages from the Book of the Sun: New and Selected Poems (2002)-
- Early Birds (2004)-
- Two Plays (2005)-
- The Emerging Perspectives on Niyi Osundare (2003)-
- Not My Business (2005)-
- Tender Moments:Love Poems (2006)-
- City Without People: The Katrina Poems (2011)-
- Random Blues (2011)-
In 2016, Osundare, along with his lifelong friend, the Sierra Leonean poet Syl Cheney-Coker, was the subject of a documentary called The Poets, by director Chivas DeVinck. The film follows Osundare and Cheney-Coker on a road-trip through Sierra Leone and Nigeria as they discuss their friendship and how their life experiences have shaped their art.
- ^ "Niyi Osundare becomes first African Cover Poet for World Poetry magazine". 2022-01-20. Retrieved 2022-03-19.
- ^ "PROF NIYI OSUNDARE – UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "Nigeriaworld Feature Article - Letter to President Obasanjo". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "Dear President Obasanjo: Another Letter". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "NIYI OSUNDARE 'Our society has lost its sense of shame'". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "How I survived Hurricane Katrina - Niyi Osundare". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "Niyi Osundare, Ph.D. | The University of New Orleans". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "Announcing". Niyi Osundare at 60 Literary Fete. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
- ^ Anyokwu, C. C. (2011-03-01). "Osundare's Poetry and the Yoruba Worldview". CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture. 13 (1): 2–9. doi:10.7771/1481-4374.1707. ISSN 1481-4374.
- ^ "Merit award won't silence me as critic, says Osundare". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
- ^ "Osundare, Niyi 1947– | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ Nigeria, Media (2018-06-05). "Biography Of Niyi Osundare". Media Nigeria. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
- ^ Nigeria, Media (2018-06-05). "Biography Of Niyi Osundare". Media Nigeria. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "African Books Collective: Moonsongs". www.africanbookscollective.com. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "Nigerian National Merit Award". www.meritaward.ng. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "About Niyi Osundare". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "Osundare, Niyi". The University of New Orleans. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "Authors". AfricanWriter.com. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "1998: Niyi Osundare | African Literature Association". Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "Niyi Osundare". niyiosundarepoetryfestival.org. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
- ^ "Niyi Osundare – "Evening of Poetry with Niyi Osundare and Friends"". UGA Calendar of Events. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
- ^ "Niyi Osundare Wins the Tchicaya U'Tamsi Award for African Poetry". Imhotep: The Collective African Blog. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "Jonathan Honours Niyi Osundare". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
- ^ "US University, Media Celebrate Prof. Osundare's Selection For Nigeria Top Academic Award". Sahara Reporters. 2014-12-17. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- ^ "African Writing Online; Niyi Osundare;". www.african-writing.com. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
- ^ Murua, James (2017-04-06). "Throwback Thursday: The Noma Award for Publishing in Africa". James Murua's Literature Blog. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
- ^ The Poets Documentary at Icarus Films.
- Ayinuola, Fortress Isaiah, and Onwuka Edwin. "Yoruba eco-proverbs in English: An eco-critical study of Niyi Osundare’s midlife and horses of memory." Journal of Literary Society of Nigeria 6 (2014): 29-40.
- Niyi Osundare at the University of New Orleans
- "I am a Humanist": An Interview with Niyi Osundare
- After Katrina, Nigerian Poet Starts New Life in New England (VOA News): Niyi Osundare survives Hurricane Katrina
- Kọ́lá Túbọ̀ṣún, Review of Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biography by Sule E. Egya. Brittle Paper, 9 October 2017.
- Tchicaya U Tam'si Prize for African Poetry winners
- People from Ekiti State
- University of Ibadan alumni
- Alumni of the University of Leeds
- York University alumni
- Academic staff of the University of Ibadan
- Nigerian poets
- University of New Orleans faculty
- Yoruba poets
- Nigerian literary critics
- Living people
- 1947 births
- 20th-century Nigerian writers
- 21st-century Nigerian writers
- English-language writers from Nigeria
- Yoruba academics
- Nigerian expatriate academics in the United States
- International Writing Program alumni
- Recipients of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award