Amos Tutuola : biography
Amos Tutuola (20 June 1920 – 8 June 1997) was a Nigerian writer famous for his books based in part on Yoruba folk-tales.
Despite his short formal education, Tutuola wrote his novels in English. After he had written his first three books and become internationally famous, he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1956 as a storekeeper in Ibadan, Western Nigeria. Tutuola became also one of the founders of Mbari Club, the writers’ and publishers’ organization. In 1979, he held a visiting research fellowship at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) at Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and in 1983 he was an associate of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In retirement he divided his time between residences at Ibadan and Ago-Odo.
Tutuola died at the age of 77 on 8 June 1997 from hypertension and diabetes.
Many of his papers, letters, and holographic manuscripts have been collected at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.
The Palm Wine Drinkard
Tutuola’s most famous novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town, was written in 1946, first published in 1952 in London by Faber and Faber, then translated and published in Paris as L’Ivrogne dans la brousse by Raymond Queneau in 1953. The noted poet Dylan Thomas brought it to wide attention, calling it "brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching". Although the book was praised in England and the United States, it faced severe criticism in Tutuola’s native Nigeria. Part of this criticism was due to his use of "broken English" and primitive style, which supposedly promoted the Western stereotype of "African backwardness". This line of criticism has, however, lost steam. In the opinion of Taban Lo Liyong:
Now, in all that he has done, Amos Tutuola is not sui generis. Is he ungrammatical? Yes. But James Joyce is more ungrammatical than Tutuola. Ezekiel Mphahlele has often said and written that African writers are doing violence to English. Violence? Has Joyce not done more violence to the English Language? Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is written in seven dialects, he tells us. It is acknowledged a classic. We accept it, forget that it has no “grammar”, and go ahead to learn his "grammar" and what he has to tell us. Let Tutuola write “no grammar” and the hyenas and jackals whine and growl. Let Gabriel Okara write a “no grammar” Okolo. They are mum. Why? Education drives out of the mind superstition, daydreaming, building of castles in the air, cultivation of yarns, and replaces them with a rational practical mind, almost devoid of imagination. Some of these minds having failed to write imaginative stories, turn to that aristocratic type of criticism which magnifies trivialities beyond their real size. They fail to touch other virtues in a work because they do not have the imagination to perceive these mysteries. Art is arbitrary. Anybody can begin his own style. Having begun it arbitrarily, if he persists to produce in that particular mode, he can enlarge and elevate it to something permanent, to something other artists will come to learn and copy, to something the critics will catch up with and appreciate.Taban Lo Liyong, “Tutuola, son of Zinjanthropus”, in Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, Three Continents Press, 1975.
Professor Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie in her own reassessment wrote in The Journal of Commonwealth Studies:
What commands acclaim is Tutuola’s use of his materials, chosen from all and sundry, and minted to make something beautiful, new and undeniably his own. He has handled his material with all of the skill of the good story teller and he has been able to endow it with the qualities of a "well-told-tale". His denigrators who think it devastating to name him a mere folktale-teller must realize that not all folktale-tellers are necessarily good. In The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Tutuola has infused the life of his hybrid with the energies of a well-wrought tale. There is the urgency in the telling, the rapidity, indispensable to the Quest-motif, with which life unrolls itself; the fertility of incidents; the successful maintenance of our interest through the varying scenes. And the good-story teller is ever present in The Palm-Wine Drinkard, speaking to us in warm human tones, genial, good-natured and unpretentious.Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie, “The Palm-Wine Drinkard: A Reassessment of Amos Tutuola”, in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, No. 9 (1970), pp. 48-56.