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Akinwunmi Isola: Life & times of pioneer Yoruba classical literature

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By Prisca Sam-Duru

Saturday 17th, 2018 will remain an unforgettable day for family, friends and the Yoruba theatre due to the passing on of popular Yoruba playwright and Scholar, Professor Akinwunmi Isola.

•Professor Akinwunmi Isola

A renowned playwright, actor, culture activist and scholar, who lived a fulfilled life, the award-winning writer spent his life time producing works that promoted the Yoruba language. Prof Isola died at  the age of 79 in his Akobo home in Ibadan, Oyo State.

The late renowned scholar who was visiting Professor at the University of Georgia, was married with four children. Before his death, Akinwumi Isola was a “Propagator of Yoruba language, culture, and progenitor of Yoruba literature who made Yoruba history popular beyond the shores of Africa.”

Prof. Isola, one of the most respected writers Africa has ever produced, left a legacy of excellent performance and was very relevant to his generation. He was extraordinarily gifted in imaginary literalism and as a cultural icon as well as a dedicated teacher; he impacted morally, culturally and socially on the lives of his audience.

Author of O Leku and Efunsetan Aniwura, Isola was born in Ibadan in 1939 and attended Labode Methodist School and Wesley College,  before proceeding to the University of Ibadan where he  earned  a B. A. in French.

He later bagged an M.A. in Yoruba literature from the University of Lagos in 1978. After his obtaining his Master’s in Yoruba Literature, he commenced academic work as a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where he was appointed professor in 1991.

Isola wrote his first play, Efunsetan Aniwura, between 1961 and 1962 while still a student at the University of Ibadan. This was followed by the novel, O Leku, which was later turned into a movie. He also wrote a play entitled,  Olu Omo,  published in May 1983 by Onibonoje Press & Book Industries (Nig.) Ltd.

In 1986, he wrote and composed the college anthem for Wesley College, Ibadan.

Prior to his demise, he delved into broadcasting and created a production company that turned a number of his plays into television dramas and films.

His career as a writer began very early in life. The renown Yoruba stage play titled: Efunsetan Aniwura was written by him when he was still a student at the University of Ibadan. Fortunately, the play became popular in Ibadan and subsequently, attracted the attention of over 40,000 people in a single performance.

Efunsetan Aniwura was followed by the novel Oleku. Though he claimed his target audience was Yorubas, he also wrote some plays and novels in English which were translated into Yoruba. His works, Oleku, Koseegbe, Saworoide, Agogo Eewo and Campus Queen, were adopted into films by veteran movie maker, Tunde  Kelani.

Furthermore, he was recognised for his immense contributions to the promotion of both literature and theatre with the award of the National Merit Award and the Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters.

Prof. Isola worked closely with Kelani as a member of a trio of the late Adebayo Faleti and the late Larinde Akinleye.

The legendary writer made history when he surprisingly delivered a university convocation lecture in Yoruba at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State. That spoke eloquently of his firm belief in the promotion of the Yoruba language as well as one’s mother tongue.

Aside Efunsetan Aniwura, Oleku, his other popular works include; Iyálóde Ìbàdàn, and Tinúubú, Ìyálóde ¸gbá – 1970; Madam Tinubu– 1998; Ogún ÍmÍdé – 1990; Belly Bellows – 2009; and Herbert Macaulay and the Spirit of Lagos – 2009.


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