Lola Shoneyin was born on the 26th of February 1974 in Ibadan, Nigeria. She is a Nigerian poet and author who launched her debut novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives”, in the UK in May 2010. Shoneyin has forged a reputation as an adventurous, humorous and outspoken poet (she is also a known feminist), having published three volumes of poetry.
In April 2014, she was named on the Hay Festival’s list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with potential and talent to define trends in African literature. Shoneyin won the Pen Award in America as well as the Ken Saro-Wiwa Award for prose in Nigeria. She was also longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK for “The Secret of Baba Segi’s Wives” in 2010. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, where she runs the annual Ake Arts and Book Festival.
Titilola Atinuke Alexandrah Shoneyin’s early writing consists mainly of poetry and short stories. Early examples of her work appeared in Post Express in 1995, which features a short story about a Nigerian woman who leaves her husband for an Austrian woman. This story initiated dialogue about homosexuality within a Nigerian context.
Her first volume of poetry, “So All the Time I was Sitting on an Egg”, was published by Ovalonion House, Nigeria, in 1998. Her second volume of poetry, “Song of a Riverbird”, was published in Nigeria (Ovalonion House) in 2002. While living in England, she obtained a teaching degree from London Metropolitan University in 2005.
Shoneyin completed her first novel in 2000. Her second novel, Harlot, received some interest, but the story remains unpublished. Shoneyin moved on to her third novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives”, which was published in 2010.
Shoneyin’s third poetry collection, For the Love of Flight, was published in February 2010. Mayowa and the Masquerades, a children’s book, was also published by Cassava Republic, in July 2010.
Shoneyin has also written for newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times on issues such as racism, Nigeria’s tradition of polygamous marriage, the Nigerian terrorist group “Boko Haram” and the elections of now President Muhammadu Buhari.
She is the Founder and Director of Book Buzz Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization established in 2012 for the promotion of arts and culture within local and global spaces. She co-founded Infusion, a popular monthly gathering for music, art and culture in Abuja, Nigeria. Shoneyin was one of the judges for the 2018 Caine Prize of African Writing.
She is married to Olaokun Soyinka, a medical doctor and the son of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.
One of her most successful ventures, Ake Arts and Book Festival, was inspired by the need to have African creatives dialogue and engage the African audience, and the urgent need to provide a viable platform for this to happen.
“I’m a writer and I often go abroad to different festivals. I am also invited to contribute to panel discussions, to talk about my experience as a novelist…I find myself in a position where people are asking me about Nigeria, people are asking me about Africa, people are asking me about culture. And a lot of the time, I am often quite defensive. If I am in front of a crowd that is often not African, I don’t want to portray my people in a negative light.” For her, the question then became, “How do I organise a festival in Nigeria, on African soil, where I will have black African creatives in dialogue with other creatives from other parts of Africa and together, they are engaging African audiences?”
Ake Festival is not limited to building the bridge between African literary books and those interested readers. Festival-goers are able to meet some outstanding authors from Africa and the Diaspora, who are able to inspire them.
Ake Festival, she says, has impacted on the economy of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital where it is held annually. Shoneyin’s ventures are all aimed at improving critical thinking, the formation of informed opinions and starting discourse.