Who knew that our beloved Soyinka had a literary obsession?

In a talk presented during a FESPACO 2013 event, titled “A Name is More Than The Tyranny Of Taste,” he goes on and on about his admiration for J. K. Rowling’s enormously successful series, Harry Potter.

Read between the lines, and you might hear Soyinka suggesting that J. K. Rowling has paved the way for what could be the next great African novel.


Harry Potter films—like the book itself—carry a wallop and generates envy in the minds of most film makers. Nothing wrong with envy, by the way. Indeed envy can actually be a good motivator.

Even the Vatican is not free from it. About four or five years ago, the Vatican issued a condemnation of the film series as a dangerous endorsement of Satanism. Well, my reaction was—oh-oh, here comes the green-eyed monster eyeing the greenbacks flowing into the box office. After all, has the Church, ever since its mammoth success with the bible, ever come up with another literary success story? To rub pepper in the wound, each time some lavish, money-spinning production from the scriptures takes place—like The Ten Commandments [1956], with the over-muscled Charlton Heston in command—the Church gets no royalties whatsoever. I think we should simply dismiss the Church’s demonizing encyclicals.

Fantasy is a different matter.

Each time I see news coverage of mile-long queues winding round a cinema theatre where a new Harry Potter book is being launched, and the same endless queues when the next Potter film is due to open—grandparents, parents, children of all ages—I fantasize about meeting Madame Multibillionaire Rowlings in a dark alley where there are no witnesses. As that opportunity became less and less likely, I began to think seriously of matching skills against hers, but based on our own African mythological resources.

Needless to say, the very first step of the creative idea is always the easiest part—which is to think to oneself—hmmm, that seems to be an interesting idea. Then the second step forward is—hmmm, that is a very good idea. Then the third, which is of course—wait a minute, that really is a brilliant, creative idea. After that, other distractions intervene, and a dead-end looms in view.

I know I shall never even succeed in setting down even the mere film treatment of a Harry Potter success. Others can, however, and should.

Why should a Bambara equivalent of the Potter series not also take the world by storm? If anyone here has a new idea on the subject—but without the Nollywood stamp—let me announce right here that I am open to propositions.

But don’t even bother to get any ideas on the subject unless you have the preliminary, capital idea—which is how to raise the capital.


“A Name Is More Than the Tyranny of Taste.” Black Camera: An International Film Journal.

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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

5 Responses to “Wole Soyinka: I Fantasize About Meeting JK Rowling in a Dark Alley” Subscribe

  1. Obinna Udenwe 2015/04/22 at 10:40 am #

    Now we seem to share same obsession. I think our Nnedi Okoroafor is doing marvelously well and rising fast. All she needs is more support and publicity both on the local and the international level.

  2. kolawole Michael 2015/04/26 at 9:08 am #

    We are too afraid to break the societal norms, our refusal to break free from the mentality of a-writer-is-a-teacher kind of writings and deep ourselves in the muse-filled ocean of phantasia writing won’t let us attempt that.

  3. Godfrey 2015/05/08 at 5:15 am #

    Love J.K Rowling’s work.We do have our own versions of her genre-Amos Tutuola,fagunde,hubert Ogunde,Cyprian Ekwensi,Abubakar Imam etc,but not the nollywood bullshit.

  4. pius nginyo 2015/05/13 at 3:43 am #

    Call me jealous all you may but the Harry Potter series is just overrated crap. It’s nonsense that has as much literary value as the sausages churned out from pork factories. The series is incomparable to Amos Tutuola’s “The Palm Wine Drinkard”, which is stylistically a literary triumph since it takes great risks and breaks from the norm of what is considered standard English.


  1. Interview | Wale Lawal On Magic, Fantasy, and the Nigerian Obsession with Harry Potter | Brittle Paper - 2015/08/10

    […] is a link where Soyinka expresses his admiration for Rowling’s work: http://brittlepaper.com/2015/04/wole-soyinka-harry-porter/Are you surprised by […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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