Peace, prose and alchemy: Change the world and you'll win the prize

September 29, 2000

Small proze for man, a giant leap for mankind. Laureates reveal what winning meant to them

Nigerian Wole Soyinka won the Nobel prize for literature in 1986 as a writer "who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence".

"I flew home to Nigeria to be greeted by crowds. I was naive enough to think it would end when the successive winner was announced. I should have heeded my fellow laureate Gabriel Garc!a M rquez's warning: 'It never stops.' But this is the penalty one must live with for the honour of the prize," Soyinka says.

"The pressure on a winner is more intense on those from the third world. You suffer from public ownership. I have to sift through all the invitations. It is always my choice, and I attend the most essential.

"The prize increased my artistic, creative and political constituencies, and I used the international platform it gave to help the plight of Nigeria and of South Africa - I dedicated my speech to Nelson Mandela, who was still imprisoned. People felt honoured to be invited to do something by a winner. It did, however, put my life in danger with the Nigerian government because I had become more of a personal threat.

"I have never supported prizes as such - judging a creative work is too problematic - yet paradoxically I enjoy the enhanced status it can give a particular act of creativity. It is a tribute to the form.

"I now plan strategies of escape, attempting to get life back to normal. I agree with George Bernard Shaw: 'I can forgive the man who invented dynamite, it took the mind of a devil to invent the Nobel prize for literature'."

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