Tutuola, Amos

1920–1997
Nigerian writer

Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola gained fame for his retelling of traditional YORUBA myths, legends, and fables. The son of a poor farmer, Tutuola struggled to obtain an education. He gathered and sold firewood to help his father pay for his schooling. When his father died in 1939, however, the family could no longer afford Tutuola’s tuition, and he had to leave school. Over the next several years, he held jobs in a variety of trades, including farming, metalworking, and photography. Finally, he took a job as a messenger at the Department of Labor.

Tutuola, Amos

It was while waiting for messages to deliver that Tutuola wrote his first novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town (1952). The novel tells of a “drinkard,” or alcoholic, who embarks on a journey to the land of the dead to find his deceased tapster, a person who serves liquor. During the journey, the “drinkard” encounters wicked creatures and magical places and eventually gains wisdom. Tutuola’s story borrows from Yoruba mythology, and its structure is based on both modern novels and traditional oral stories. Although the novel received praise in England, some Nigerians criticized it, saying that Tutuola’s use of poor grammar and Yoruba folklore were unsophisticated.

Despite the criticism, Tutuola continued to write. His second novel, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954), received more praise abroad than in Nigeria. He did not become popular in his own country until 1962, when he wrote a stage version of The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Tutuola’s other works include Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle (1955), Yoruba Folktales (1986), and The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories (1990). (See also Literature.)