I have an essay in the new issue of Harper’s called “Yesterday’s Men: The Death of the Mythical Method.” It traces the interest in myth and myth-making from Giambattista Vico to George Lucas, tries to explain why myth has ceased to be an appealing and useful category to our intelligentsia, and asks whether there might be a case for restoring it to a place in our conceptual toolbox. 

I do think such a case can be made, and while I do not in this essay make that case in any formal way, I conclude by pointing to the example of Wole Soyinka, who (I’ve been saying this for decades) just may be our greatest living writer. If you don’t know anything about Soyinka, here’s an introductory essay I wrote about him more than twenty years ago. 

I’d love to make a few converts to Soyinka. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend two of the plays in the first volume of his Collected Plays: The Strong Breed and The Swamp Dwellers. Then move on to his greatest play, and one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century, Death and the King’s Horseman

Soyinka has also written several volumes of memoirs, the best of which are the first two: Aké: The Years of Childhood and Ìsarà: A Voyage around “Essay” — “Essay” being the nickname of Soyinka’s father, S. A. Soyinka. The former is still in print and easy to find; the latter has been ignored, which is a great shame. They are wonderfully rich, evocative, and perceptive accounts of childhood, and a window into a certain class of Nigerian Christians around the time of the Second World War. (The passages in Aké about the widespread fear that Hitler would invade Nigeria are very funny. In fact, you will find yourself smiling often as you read these memoirs.) 

The next level of difficulty would be his more ambitious plays (A Dance of the Forests and — I discuss this one in my essay — his Yoruba/Christian/Greek version of Euripides’s Bacchae), and then his remarkable novel The Interpreters

Also, here are some photographs of the Soyinka family I put up for one of my classes and have yet to annotate. The third photo is of the formidable Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, whose women’s march for tax relief is the climactic scene of Aké — she was a pioneering Nigerian feminist and activist, Soyinka’s great-aunt, and the mother of the great Fela Kuti. Which means the one of the greatest African singer-songwriters and one of the greatest living writers are cousins. 

Finally, here are some photos I took in 1991 when I visited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in the heart of Yorubaland.