In a shocking statement released by his family, fans and friends around the world have been shaken by the news that beloved Nigerian Novelist, playwright, and filmmaker Biyi Bandele has sadly passed away. Though the cause of death is still unknown, he is said to have died on Sunday, 7 August, 2022 in Lagos at just 54 years old.
In the statement, his daughter Temi Bandele described her father as “a storyteller to his bones, with an unblinking perspective, singular voice and wisdom which spoke boldly through all of his art, in poetry, novels, plays and on screen.” She went on to write about the profound impact of his stories — a legacy, which she rightly says, will live on through his work:
Born in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, to parents who were from Abeokuta, Ogun State, Biyi Bandele-Thomas had ambitions to be a writer early in life, and when he was 14 years old, won a short-story competition. In 1987, he studied Dramatic Arts at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, during which time he won the International Student Playscript competition of 1989 with an unpublished play, Rain, before claiming the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for a collection of poems. He relocated to England in his early 20s, armed with the manuscripts of two novels. His books were published, and he enjoyed a flourishing career as a writer.
His fiction and non-fiction work include: The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond (1991), The Sympathetic Undertaker (1991) and The Street (1999), all of which have been widely enjoyed and praised over the years, his writing often described as being rich in surrealism and wit, while still capable of provoking thought and political engagement.
His 2007 novel, Burma Boy, reviewed in The Independent by Tony Gould, was called “a fine achievement” and lauded for providing a voice for previously unheard Africans. There is also Yoruba Boy Running, which he recently concluded and submitted for publishing.
Theatre And Screenplays
Bandele had a praiseworthy string of successes in his screenwriting career, having worked with the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as writing radio drama and screenplays for television. He was a writer-in-residence with Talawa Theatre Company from 1994 to 1995, a resident dramatist with the Royal National Theatre Studio in 1996, and also acted as Royal Literary Fund Resident Playwright at the Bush Theatre from 2002 to 2003.
His plays include Rain; Marching for Fausa (1993); Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought (1994); Two Horsemen (1994), selected as Best New Play at the 1994 London New Plays Festival; Death Catches the Hunter and Me and the Boys (published in 1995); and Oroonoko, an adaptation of Aphra Behn’s 17th-century novel of the same name. In 1997 he did a memorable dramatization of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. He also adapted Lorca’s Yerma in 2001, amongst others.
While his notable career spans almost three decades, a great many of us came to know and love him through his work in film. He self-produced a TV-Movie documentary titled Africa States of Independence back in 2010. His directorial debut film Half of a Yellow Sun needs no introduction, having received rave reviews and a wide range of critical attention across the world. And who can forget his popular drama, Fifty (Ebony Films) which was included in the 2015 London Film Festival.
He also directed the third season of the popular MTV drama series, Shuga: What’s Your Reality, and successfully directed FELA – Father of Afrobeat, a TV special documentary for the BBC in 2018. And of course, in 2022, he directed the first Netflix Nigerian Original series, Blood Sisters, which many of us are still enjoying.
His latest work is Elesin Oba, the King’s Horseman (2022), which he adapted from Wole Soyinka’s classic drama, ‘Death & The King’s Horseman’, and directed for EbonyLife Films. The film is yet to be released but is slated to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, in September.
Bandele’s awards include the London New Play Festival Award (1994); a University of Aberdeen Wingate Scholarship Award (1995); the Peggy Ramsay Award (1998); and the BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award for Best Play (2000). In 2006, he was named by the Independent one of Africa’s fifty most important artists. He was a member of PEN, the Society of Authors, and the Writers Guild of Great Britain.
At the heart of all this talent and commendable work was a man. And for those of us who never had the pleasure of meeting him, perhaps the most intimate glimpse into the mind of this man is taking a look at his Instagram page. In recent years, Biyi Bandele started sharing stirring photographs specifically focused on everyday life on Lagos Island. While this might not be the most unusual thing for a filmmaker to do, these vivid images not only help us see street life through his artistic eye but also give us a feel of his own quiet, contemplative humanity.
He will be greatly missed by his family and friends; the film industry, and the literary world at large.