Toyin Adewale was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, also the birthplace of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Nigeria is a country where the average citizen would spend a quarter of his monthly earnings to buy a book, and where only ten percent of the population read any books at all. Toyin Adewale had the good fortune to be born into an educated family which could afford to send her to a secondary school, where she learnt English as a second language next to her native Yoruba.
After secondary school she went on to study English literature at Lagos University.
Toyin Adewale began writing poetry while still in her teens. In 1995 she published her first collection, Naked Testimonies, which was very well received and earned her an honourable mention from the Association of Nigerian Authors. She has published two books in German translation: Die Aromaforscherin (1998) and Flackerende Kerzen (1999). She is the founder and president of the Women Writers of Nigeria Organization (WRITA), which works to improve the position of women writers in her country.
With almost all African countries Nigeria shares a tragic colonial past and a turbulent post-colonial history of civil conflict and bloody military dictatorships. In her poetry, Toyin Adewale speaks from a strong empathy with her people’s suffering. ‘in this land we love with pain / even the trees feel like whips’, she says in her poem ‘Safari’. ‘I know the green bile of hunger’, she says elsewhere.
But there are powerful counterforces. Adewale draws comfort and inspiration from her Christian faith, and from love. The cycle ‘Aeons’ is a true feast of surrender. ‘Take me, bless me, break me, give me,’ she sings in the last line. Her poem ‘Olayimika’ is also essentially an ode to life: ‘Behold the daughter,’ it says, ‘your blessed harvest’.
[Toyin Adewale took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]
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