The Spotlight’s on… Biyi Bandele

biyi-wordpress-pic.jpgBiyi Bandele is a Nigerian playwright and novelist. Born to Yoruba parents in 1967, he spent his youth in Kafanchan, Nigeria. By age 14, he had begun work on his first novel, and in college won first place in a competition with his theater piece Rain. The prize was a scholarship for a one-year stay in London, where he lives to this day. In addition to theatre pieces and novels, Bandele has written narrative prose, poetry, radio plays, and screenplays.

In 1999, Bandele was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to write an adaptation of Aphra Behn√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1688 novella Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave. In his version, he rejects Behn’s idealized characterization of Oroonoko, and instead explores African identity and portrays Oroonoko and other black Africans as flawed and human.

Of Oroonoko, Bandele writes, “I want to give the audience an idea of the complex society from which Oroonoko came, not some false nostalgia trip.√Ǭ†I’m not setting out to show the evils of slavery√¢‚Ǩ¬¶the play I’ve written has slavery at its heart, but it’s also a simple story about a man and a woman, and how everything around them conspires to frustrate their love√¢‚Ǩ¬¶[The character of Oroonoko is] deeply flawed.√Ǭ†He refuses to have an independent mind.√Ǭ†That’s what lands him into slavery√¢‚Ǩ¬¶If you’re a white liberal, you beat you chest and say mea culpa.√Ǭ†There is no bleeding heart at the centre of this.√Ǭ† It’s not going to make me popular, but I’m not interested in the philosophy of blaming someone else.√Ǭ†I find that dishonest.√Ǭ†It’s important to say ‘I am the author of my destiny’.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Oroonoko premiered at the RSC in 1999 to general acclaim.√Ǭ† A descendant of a returned slave himself, Bandele’s plays have also been presented at the Royal Court and Royal National Theatres.√Ǭ†