Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is hotly tipped to become Oxford University’s new professor of poetry, a 300-year-old elected position regarded as the UK’s top academic poetry role.
The political activist emerged as the favourite after formally putting his name forward for the role, which in the past has been held by the great and the good of the literary world, from Matthew Arnold to Seamus Heaney.
The professorship was first held by Joseph Trapp in 1708 and has since been filled by Matthew Arnold, Cecil Day-Lewis, WH Auden and Paul Muldoon amongst others.
The 2009 election became mired in controversy when its winner, acclaimed poet and first elected woman Ruth Padel, resigned just two weeks into the job. The revelation that she had briefed journalists on allegations of sexual harassment that had been made against one of her rivals for the position, Derek Walcott, forced her premature departure and lead to Geoffrey Hill taking up the role in 2010.
Hill completes his five-year tenure this summer and Oxford graduates are now considering which of Soyinka and the two other candidates are their preferred choice ahead of next month’s vote.
Soyinka has emerged as the front-runner in the three horse race, securing more than 90 nominations from Oxford graduates from who candidates need to secure at least 50 to run. The poet and novelist was imprisoned in solitary confinement during Nigeria’s 1967-1970 civil war – smuggling beyond the prison walls poems written on toilet paper – and won the Nobel in 1986 for his “wide cultural perspective [which] with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”.
You can read a collection of Soyinka’s poetry here.
Image via European Parliament / cc