By Japhet Alakam & Ben Njoku
Professor Femi Osofisan, a playwright, director, actor, critic, poet, novelist, editor and newspaper columnist, has been named winner of the coveted Thalia Prize 2016, which was announced by the Executive Committee of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC/AICT). The Thalia Prize is meant to highlight the work of those who have helped critics around the globe to understand new ways of seeing and appreciating the performing arts worldwide. This was announced by the President of IATC-Nigeria, Professor Emmanuel Dandaura.
An extraordinary career
The 2016 Thalia Prize will be presented to the awardee during the IATC Congress in Belgrade. According to him, Femi Osofisan won the award for his extraordinary career as critic, scholar, playwright and spokesman for artistic freedom in his native Nigeria and for his outspoken criticism of artistic repression across the African continent.
With the award, Femi Osofisan becomes the first African and indeed first Black literary scholar to win the highly contested award, which is coming shortly after he (Professor Emmanuel Dandaura) became the first Black and first African Member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) in 2014.
The IATC has been around for a long time: this year it is celebrating 60 years. But the Thalia Prize is young –only ten years old. Osofisan is of the generation that followed the steps of two African theatrical giants , Soyinka and Fugard, who made their reputations in the 1960s and 1970s and his footprint is almost as large as theirs on the continent of Africa and it is growing in other parts of the world as well. Probably his most well-known play is Once Upon Four Robbers, which is already taught in numerous universities around the world and has been widely anthologized.
But it is only one of some 50 plays by this major artist and activist. These plays like his critical writings are cries for personal freedom and political action and include many adaptations of Greek and Shakespearean originals, tailored for whatever political situation might exist.
Like Soyinka and Fugard before him, Osofisan has attacked repressive governments wherever they have emerged and he has been attacked in turn. He has had his work staged at the Guthrie and other major regional theatres in the United States, as well as in Germany, the U.K., Sri Lanka, Canada and China. In 1982 he was appointed a member of the pioneer Editorial Board and think tank of The Guardian Newspaper (Lagos).
The author of over 50 plays and hundreds of critical essays, four novels and five collections of poetry and the subject of several celebratory volumes in his honour, Prof. Osofisan has followed in the footsteps of Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. His work has covered a range of subjects including, as eloquently stated in a volume of essays on his life and work published in 2009, the roles of theatre and literature in society, gender and empowerment of women, style and language, the mobility of oral tradition and even translation and transliteration.
“Born in 1946, Prof. Osofisan entered the University of Ibadan in 1966 majoring in French (he studied for a year at the University of Dakar as part of his degree), graduating in 1969. He then won a scholarship to the Sorbonne in Paris. He did not complete his graduate degree there, however, because his supervisor did not allow him to do a thesis on African drama. He eventually obtained his PhD at the University of Ibadan with a dissertation on the ‘Origins of Drama in West Africa in English and French.