No. 3 AMOS TUTUOLA (1920-1997)
Amos Tutuola was born in Abeokuta in 1920 and his fantastical first novel ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ was the catalyst for Nigerian Literature in English.
Although his novels might be unconventional – both grammatically, and thematically, they make up for that with their vivid imagery that is both bewitching and haunting. His stories are lurid representation of Yoruba myth and culture brought to life in vernacular English.
Tutuola’s brilliance lies in his fusion of folktales with his own imagination, to create a contemporarily story steeped in realism. It takes a master story teller to spin a well known tale into a motion that keeps the interest of the reader rolling until the end and Tutuola was a man at the height of his craft.
All of his stories are not from folktales though, not entirely at least. In the original folktale from which The Palmwine Drinkard was loosely based, there was no Palmwine drinkard. That character was born of Tutuola’s imagination and without which the tale would not have the desired effect.
His phantasmagorical fiction explores the notion of loss and the afterlife; of possibilities and fantasies, all fused into an inspired narrative that is as alive as the imagination of its author.
Tutuola did not receive the respect he deserved during his lifetime – at least not from his own people. That seems to be changing.
ThePalmwine Drinkard was released by Faber and Faber in the UK to international acclaim, but critics from West Africa criticised it as a poor representation of literacy in the continent and it remained the popular opinion till his death in 1997.
It is particularly sad that in a country where honorary degree is cheap and routinely given to politicians and many others undeserving, no Nigerian University honoured him with any.
Nigerian literature in English might have grown since his debut in 1952, but Tutuola remains the foundation of it all.
Wole Soyinka said “…apart from the work of D.O. Fagunwa who writes in Yoruba, (Tutuola) is the earliest instance of the new Nigerian writer gathering multifarious experience under, if you like, the two cultures, and exploiting them in one extravagant, confident whole.”
Books: The Palmwine Drinkard (1952), The Brave African Huntress (1958), The Feather Woman of the Jungle (1962), Ajayi and His Inherited Poverty (1967), The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town (1981), Yoruba Folktales (1986), Pauper, Brawler, and Slanderer (1987), The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories (1990).