Numerous literary luminaries, major intellectuals and cultural figures backing Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s nomination as the next Professor of Poetry at Oxford University have intensified their drive for votes.
All graduates from Oxford as well as current students are eligible to vote for the five candidates who have been nominated for the highly prestigious position. Apart from Soyinka, the other candidates are Simon Armitage, Ian Gregson, Seán Haldane and A.E. Stallings.
“We believe that Soyinka is the most distinguished candidate by far,” one of the Nobel laureate’s champions told our correspondent from Oxford. “With the deadline for registration [to vote] coming up on June 8, we want as many voters as possible to know what a marvelous thing it would be to elect Mr. Soyinka,” he added.
Lucy Newlyn, a poet and professor at Oxford who is Soyinka’s official representative for the post, told SaharaReporters that those who intend to vote must register online by June 8, 2015. She urged anyone with an Oxford degree, or who is a member of congregation, to register at: www.votebyinternet.com/oxfordpoetry15
Oxford University is expected to announce the result of this year’s vote June 19, 2015.
The Oxford Professor of Poetry is required to deliver three public lectures during his or her tenure. Geoffrey Hill is the current occupant of the professorship, but his term will end as soon as a new poet is elected. Past occupants of the grand post include Seamus Heaney, Matthew Arnold, WH Auden and Robert Graves.
After Soyinka was nominated for the post, he received endorsements from major poets, novelists, and intellectuals from within Oxford and around the globe. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is also a poet, described Soyinka as “a massive cultural presence,” adding, “it would be wonderful if Oxford could provide him with a platform to speak in this way.”
Another major British poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, called on Oxford voters to “honor one of the world’s greatest living writers. In times like these when we are spending so much energy looking inwards and being nationalistic, Wole Soyinka will help us reconnect with the world and be more outward looking.” In his statement of support, writer Ben Okri said Soyinka’s “presence would profoundly enrich the poetic and intellectual life of the university,” adding that the Nobel laureate is “a genuine legend of contemporary literature.”
An Oxford don, Shami Chakrabarti, wrote: “His shining language of resistance has never dimmed and his sense of justice never faltered. Wole Soyinka’s appointment would bring honour to the University of Oxford.”
Robert Macfarlane praised Soyinka as “a giant of modern literature—and a man whose life and writing has proved how vitally poetry matters.” Former US poet laureate Rita Dove echoed the sentiment, describing Soyinka as “a true man of world letters.” She urged Oxford not to “forego this unique opportunity to be honored by Wole Soyinka’s physical presence and poetic wisdom.”
Soyinka, who has garnered 149 nominations, recently told the Guardian newspaper in the UK that he took his candidacy seriously and would be able to meet all the obligations of the esteemed professorship if elected. His backers have created a Facebook page that contains instructions for registration and voting, his recorded reading, and statements by numerous nominators and endorsers. The link to the Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/soyinkaforoxford?notif_t=page_invite_accepted.