Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has emerged the leading candidate for the prestigious position of Oxford Professor of Poetry, a 300-year-old position regarded by many as the top academic role in the United Kingdom.
The Britain’s Guardian newspaper is reporting that the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature winner has received over 90 nominations, 40 more than the required number, from Oxford graduates and looks set to replace Geoffery Hill, who will complete his five year tenure this summer.
To be named the Oxford professor of poetry, candidates needs to receive at least 50 nominations. Mr. Soyinka has at least 36 nominations more than his closest rival for the position, Ian Gregson, a poet, literary critic and professor of creative writing at Bangor University who was backed by 54 graduates.
The Oxford professor of poetry was first held in 1708 by Joseph Trapp. Past occupiers of the post include prominent poets like WH Auden, Seamus Heaney, Matthew Arnold and Paul Muldon.
In 2009, the position was plagued by controversy when it was revealed that the winner, Ruth Padel, the first woman elected into the post, had spoken to journalist about alleged sexual harassment of her closest rival, Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott.
Mr. Soyinka is a versatile writer who writes drama, poetry and prose and is an influential socio-political activist in Nigeria where he is known to speak openly against corruption, misrule and political high-handedness. During the Nigerian civil war, from 1967-1970, he was jailed in solitary confinement for speaking against the brutality of the war against the breakaway eastern region then named Republic of Biafra.
“Oxford’s professorship of poetry is one of the most famous and illustrious positions in the world of letters, and the chair has been occupied by some of our greatest writers, both poets and critics,” said Seamus Perry, professor of English literature at Oxford.
“It has been an honour and a delight to have Geoffrey Hill in the post, and he will be a hard act to follow. I am delighted to have such a strong and diverse list of candidates for this year’s election.”
The winner of the post will be announced on June 19. His duty will include giving one public lecture each term and encouraging “the art of poetry in the university”.
He will also receive an annual stipend of £12,000.
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