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Niyi Osundare (born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria) is a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic. He gained degrees 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. Niyi has a wife, Kemi, and three children, two girls and a son who still lives in Nigeria. His deaf daughter is the real 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. They moved with her so Niyi and Kemi could be closer to her.
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 the 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 (1993–1998), 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 neighbor, who at the time was driving by in his boat, heard their shouts for help. They were rescued and bounced around from rescue shelters till they ended up in Ringe, New Hampshire, where Osundare could get a teaching job as a professor at Franklin Pierce Collage till things settled down.
He 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".
In December 2014, Osundare was awarded the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) for academic excellence.
- 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)
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 (Africa’s most prestigious Book Award; 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)
- "Announcing". Niyi Osundare at 60 Literary Fete. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
- "Merit award won’t silence me as critic, says Osundare". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
- 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