Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka regaled his audiences at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) on Wednesday with a story about the time he pretended to be Morgan Freeman. Speaking to a a roomful of children, he recounted how a family mistook him for the famous Hollywood actor and expressed their admiration for him while he was on a plane.
“The family had young children and I didn’t want to disappoint them,” he said. “So I kind of played along. And when we were getting off the plane, the family was waiting for me with their notebooks. So then what do I do? I just forged Morgan Freeman’s signature.” His story was met with peals of laughter and applause from the thoroughly entertained students.
The Nigerian playwright and novelist, who was addressing students during a special morning session on Thursday at the Intellectual Hall, also shared that he was mistaken for Freeman so often that he took wearing a hat at the airport. “This guy is so famous that he has made life difficult for me,” he said, with a chuckle. “Once while I was in Kazakhstan for a holiday, I was followed. I also get mistaken for Kofi Annan occasionally.”
Be prepared for rejection
The 89-year-old Soyinka, who is known for his work in theatre and political activist, advised the students to be prepared for rejection if they wanted to become writers. “Keep your rejection slips,” he said. “Look at them often. They are your scars like in a battle. They will give you the energy to stay determined.”
He also shared that he was excited when he got his first book published. “My play was published and when I got the book, it was a very special feeling,” he said. “I went home that day and celebrated.”
Since then, Soyinka has published numerous plays, novels, poems and stories which eventually earned him his Nobel Prize in 1986. More recently, he was also bestowed with the International Humanist Award, a honorary degree from Cambridge University and a special prize at the Europe Theater Prize.
When asked about social media, Soyinka said that although it was a great platform, he chose to stay away from it. “It brought about a democratisation of communication channels,” he said. “It is a great platform but it has been debased and taken over by barbarians to such an extent that serious writers are moving away from it. It is such a shame to let such a marvellous piece of technology go to waste by letting it be taken over by forces of darkness.”
Soyinka, who has been teaching at the New York University, Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) since 2020, has also taught at the universities of Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford and Yale.
He advised students to continue writing and sending their work to journals and magazines from a young age. He also asked to read extensively and explore what is the best medium to communicate the experience that they are trying to convey.
After the event, students crowded around him for autographs, and he posed for photos along with some nursery students.