Bode Sowande (born 2 May 1948) is a Nigerian writer and dramatist, known for the theatric aesthetic of his plays about humanism and social change. He comes from a breed of writers in Nigeria that favors a post-traditional social and political landscape where the individual is the creator and maker of his own history not just the subject of norms and tradition. Sowande is a member of the so-called second generation of Nigerian playwrights, who favor a much more political tone in their writing and seek to promote an alliance or acquiescence to a change in the status quo and fate of the common man and farmers who constitute the majority of the Nigerian society. Some members of this group includes: Zulu Sofola, Femi Osofisan and Festus Iyayi. Bode Sowande in May 2010, launched a tarot website Tarot With Prayers. He has produced several literary works in form of Novels and short stories, Plays Television and Radio plays which were broadcast on BBC African drama programme, for which he is best known for.
The veteran writer and dramatist runs the drama group “Odu Themes”, established in 1972, and the “Bode Sowande Theatre Academy”, an internship programme for dramatists, to nurture up and coming dramatists. He has taught in many Nigerian Universities and one time Head of the Department before he retired as a lecturer in Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. He is married with children. His play The Spellbinder was longlisted for the 2023 Nigeria Prize for Literature? He has many local and international awards, including the French award of Chevalier De L’Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres, Association of Nigerian Authors award for Flamingo and other plays in 1987, for Tornadoes Full of Dreams in 1989, Grand Patron of the Arts Award by Pan African Writers Association in 1992, African Nollywood Award , London in 2001, and several others.
Hello, Prof. Bode. We are beyond pleased to have you join us.
What prompted you to become a playwright? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how did you work towards actualizing the dream?
I read the paperback novels in my father’s library, I told him, my father that I wanted to be a writer and he bought me exercise books. So it started in my secondary school days.
What was the process of writing your first play like for you? Has there been any radical changes between how you wrote your first play and how you write now?
I wrote my first play ”Whose Victory ” at Government College Ibadan, to help raise funds for the Student Christian Union. The play won the school prize in creative writing when I was in Form 5. In form 4, Sunday Times, Lagos published my short story “‘Police Broke Up, HepCats, Booze Party ‘. So it all started in my secondary school days at Government College Ibadan. In 1968, at University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, as an undergraduate, towards Bachelor’s degree in French, I won the competitive prize in Creative Writing, during the University Festival of the Arts (with my play, Paint Me Blacker’.
Can you share some of the challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered in the Nigerian theater scene? How has the theater landscape evolved during your career?
Theatre was one of the main leisures of Government College Ibadan with school plays based in literature texts. The principal Derek Bullock produced Wole Soyinka’s world premiere of The Strong Breed and Soyinka came to see it. Wole Soyinka is also an old boy of Government College Ibadan so theatre was vibrant at G.C.I. There I began my internship in Theatre.
Those student days were very so busy for me. I was an actor in OriOlokun at Unife, directed by Ola Rotimi. Concurrently I was Playwright in residence in Ibadan with Orisun Theatre, Wole Soyinka’s theatre company, being directed by Dapo Adelugba, during the Kaduna prison detention of Wole Soyinka (during the Nigerian Civil War).
Nigeria has a rich cultural and artistic tradition. How do you draw from this cultural heritage in your plays, and what unique themes or elements from Nigerian culture do you explore in your work?
Without your existential understanding of your culture you cannot interpret life profoundly. We all see life through culture, either your culture or another person’s culture.
What do you think makes a good playwright succeed, and what are some of the literary trends and artistic troupes you believe has impacted the thematic essence of the modern play the most?
You succeed as a playwright by writing and workshopping your plays with friends and even non professionals, until the final text is ready. You should also read good books of any subject, observe life, and be honest with your vision of life.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your writing? What personal experiences have influenced your writing the most?
Facts of life plus ‘faction'(Facts with fiction is coined faction) and then pure creative imagination; and all of these are ingredients of playwriting.
Your book, The Spillbinder, has been described by critics as a compelling work that traverses the intricate landscape of human drama, interwoven with the profound implications of mental health issues. Do you consider this a fair assessment of what the play was intending to achieve?
The Spellbinder is truly what the critics have observed; and many more. There will always be something for each person watching the play.
Still on the subject of your published book “The SpillBinder”. How did you feel when you found out it was longlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature?
Good that the Spellbinder was longlisted for the Nigerian literature prize, but it is a burden of expectations for self and those who love you. I just feel like saying ‘Please leave me alone! “Too much hype. Prizes are good and vain; very parodoxical! Congratulations to the winner. Nothing more to say!
Many playwrights grapple with the balance between artistic expression and commercial success. How do you navigate this balance, and what advice would you give to emerging playwrights in Nigeria?
I have commercially successful plays but I don’t write for commercialism.
Adapting plays to the screen has become increasingly popular. How do you view the potential of your works transitioning to film or other visual media, and what challenges or opportunities does this present for Nigerian playwrights?
My plays trended on TV (Acada Campus on NTA Network. Before Nollywood. I wrote for stage in Europe, London, BBC African Service, etc.). I began very early and I became an Academic. Not looking back I just love writing for the theatre.
So, what are you working on next? What should we look forward to? Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
I don’t ever disclose what I am writing until it is finished. However something good is always cooking with pleasure.
Finally, if the world’s last remaining library was burning, and you could only save three books, what books would there be?
Last surviving three books, hypothetically speaking would be my play ‘Mammy Water’s Wedding’ on the Environment, Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Interpreter’, plus any play by William Shakespeare.