Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | February 1, 2010

math stories – Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka

From, courtesy of Dan MacKinnon.

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is a man of few words, but such beautiful words they are.

As a school student, Nigerian author Wole Soyinka loathed mathematics. “When my final exams for school were over, I remember taking all my mathematic books and making a bonfire and burning them. I even did a little jig on the ashes,” says Soyinka to a devoted audience who braved the scorching mid-day sun to listen to him at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Little did the Nobel Laureate know at the time, that mathematics would save him from losing his mind, during his imprisonment in 1997. “When I was imprisoned, I was thrown into solitary confinement. I had been placed under trial but it was a barren existence. I invented games in my head. I began doing mathematics again. I’d scratch on the floor of the cell with a stone, working out permutations and combinations, using different formulae. Hours would pass but it nearly drove me crazy too,” says Soyinka, who later managed to befriend the jailor and smuggle in a book to read. He later began to make ink out of smuggled in coffee and wrote on scraps of paper. “I had to create an interior life to survive,” says the 75-year-old.


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