Full Name: Biyi Bandele-Thomas
Born: 13 October 1967
Birth place: Kafanchan, Kaduna State, Nigeria
Alma mater: Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife
Famous as: Filmmaker, Novelist
Years active: 1998–present
Theater play: Happy Birthday Mister Deka
Parents: Solomon Bamidele Thomas
Books: The King’s Rifle: A Novel, The Street, The Man who Came in from the Back of Beyond
Biographical and educational history
Biyi Bandele was born to Yoruba parents in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, Nigeria in 1967.
His father Solomon Bandele Thomas was a veteran of the Burma Campaign in World War II, while Nigeria was still part of the British Empire.
Biyi Bandele spent the first 18 years of his life in the northern part of the country in the Hausa cultural tradition.
Biyi Bandele had ambitions to be a writer and when he was 14 years old he won a short-story competition.
Later on, he moved to Lagos, then in 1987 studied drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
He won the International Student Playscript competition of 1989 with an unpublished play, Rain, before claiming the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for a collection of poems.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 moved to London in 1990 at the age of 22 armed with the manuscripts of two novels.
His books were published and he was given a commission by the Royal Court Theatre.
Biyi Bandele worked with the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as writing radio drama and screenplays for television.
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 one volume, 1995); and Oroonoko, an adaptation of Aphra Behn’s 17th-century novel of the same name.
In 1997 he did a successful dramatization of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Brixton Stories, Bandele’s stage adaptation of his own novel The Street (1999), premiered in 2001 and was published in one volume with his play Happy Birthday Mister Deka, which premiered in 1999. He also adapted Lorca’s Yerma in 2001.
He was writer-in-residence with Talawa Theatre Company from 1994 to 1995, resident dramatist with the Royal National Theatre Studio (1996), the Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, in 2000–01.
Biyi Bandele also acted as Royal Literary Fund Resident Playwright at the Bush Theatre from 2002 to 2003.
Biyi Bandele has written of the impact of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which he saw on a hire-purchase television set in a railway town in northern Nigeria:
And so although I had yet to set foot outside Kafanchan, although I knew nothing about postwar British society, or the Angry Young Men, or anything about Osborne when I met Jimmy Porter on the screen… there was no need for introductions: I had known Jimmy all my life.
Biyi Bandele’s novels, which include The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond (1991) and The Street (1999), have been described as “rewarding reading, capable of wild surrealism and wit as well as 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.
His directorial debut film Half of a Yellow Sun was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and received a “rapturous reception”.
The film received a wide range of critical attention. His new film, entitled Fifty, was included in the 2015 London Film Festival.
Biyi Bandele also directed the third season of the popular MTV drama series, Shuga.
Biyi Bandele Awards and recognitions
1989 – International Student Playscript Competition – Rain
1994 – London New Play Festival – Two Horsemen
1995 – Wingate Scholarship Award
2000 – EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) for Best Play – Oroonoko