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Talk to Me: Wole Soyinka Lectures on Freedom, Myths and Metaphors at the New York Public Library

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

With a shock of white hair and matching beard, Wole Soyinka was a striking figure as he indulged a rapt audience at the New York Public Library as the closing speaker for the PEN World Voices Festival. Soyinka's take on the "Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture" was imbued with perfect diction, mythical metaphors, and biographical clout — he penned his book "Poems from Prison" while in jail for 22 months and has been an outspoken critic of political oppression throughout his five-decade career.

Soyinka used Humpty Dumpty as a metaphor for dictators across nations and cultures, and likened writing to sorcery. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his speech, though, is the elevated and elegant language he used to address the freedom of writers both historically as well as in present day.

Bon Mots:

Soyinka on retaliation against literary oppression: "When the life of a Salman Rushdie or another literary tribesman is declared open season for all religious or secular psychopaths, we should, as I proposed at the time, organize an unmanned aerial armada of those contemporary broomsticks known as hot air balloons. Load the wicker baskets with the allegedly offending material, and, using the latest witchcraft technology known as remote control, spew their contents all over Humpty Dumpty’s wall. Sooner or later, true power will lend a hand."

On the duty of writers: "Writers and intellectuals have a duty to humanity. It is to insist that the human entity remains the primary asset in overall development, thus it must be safeguarded."

On writers' salaries: "No writer has a right to make that much money. Indeed, without diabolical assistance, no writer can."

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