Harry Kreisler: Your work as a political activist and as an essayist and as a human rights activist took a decisive turn at a period before the Biafran war in which, in your efforts to prevent that conflict from occurring, you became a political prisoner in Nigeria for two years. You recounted that story in a book called The Man Died. Where did that title come from?Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka, who recently turned 75, is this week's guest on CNN's African Voices programme.
Wole Soyinka: Well, the title was directly from a telegram which was sent to me. The man who died was a victim of military brutality in whose case I was particularly interested as one of the many causes which support, investigate, challenge power on behalf of human dignity. And in this case this fellow had been brutalized by the military, it was a military government, and after I was forced into exile while I was writing the book, looking for a title for the book, I sent word home asking for information about this young man and a telegram came with the title, "the man died." And it just seemed to me just apt for the book, my prison experiences, which I was writing at the time.
--Conversations with History interview, 16 April 1998.
By giving his 1972 memoir chronicling his 22-month imprisonment in solitary confinement the title The Man Died, Soyinka seemed to be saying "There, but for the grace of God [or Ogun in Soyinka's case], go I." Others have not been so fortunate: The eponymous anonymous "Man" and, over two decades later, Soyinka's friend and compatriot Ken Saro-Wiwa.