Biyi Bandele, a renowned novelist and filmmaker, has passed away, his family said late Monday on Facebook. Bandele, 54, was a prolific author, playwright, and filmmaker whose work includes the adaptation of famed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton.
Bandele was born Biyi Bandele-Thomas on October 13, 1967, in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, Nigeria to Yoruba parents. With experience in theater, journalism, television, film, radio, and other media in addition to the fiction that made him famous, Bandele was considered as one of the most prolific and varied Nigerian writers based in the UK. He went to London in 1990 and resided there.
Bandele, who was dubbed a precocious child, had early aspirations to become a writer and won a short-story contest when he was just 14 years old. He later relocated to Lagos and enrolled at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife to study drama in 1987.
Before winning the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for an unpublished book of poems, he won the 1989 International Student Playscript Competition with an unpublished play, Rain. He brought the drafts of two of his novels with him when he traveled to London that year, at the age of 22, on an invitation to a theater festival. He quickly located a publisher in the UK and received a commission from the Royal Court Theatre.
Bandele has written plays for the Royal Court Theater, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and other theaters in addition to radio dramas and television screenplays. Rain, Marching for Fausa (1993), Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought (1994), Two Horsemen (1994), which was chosen as the 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, which is a retelling of the same-named novel by Aphra Behn from the 17th century, are some of his works.
He successfully staged Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in 1997. The Street (1999), Bandele’s own novel, was adapted for the theater in 2001 and released in a single volume with his play Happy Birthday Mister Deka, which premiered in 1999. He also adapted Lorca’s Yerma in 2001.
He held the positions of resident dramatist with the Royal National Theater Studio from 1994 to 1995, writer-in-residence with Talawa Theater Company from 1994 to 1995, and Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, from 2000 to 2001. In addition, he served as the Bush Theatre’s Royal Literary Fund Resident Playwright from 2002 to 2003.
Half of a Yellow Sun, his first picture as a director, garnered a “rapturous reception” when it was chosen for the Special Presentation category of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie attracted a variety of critical attention. The third season of the well-known MTV drama series Shuga was also directed by him. The Netflix sensation Blood Sisters was co-directed by Bandele as well. The streaming platform paid tribute to him and said his passing is “a monumental loss to Nigeria’s film and creative industry.”