Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (signing autographs in London).jpg
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o signs copies of his book Wizard of the Crow, at the Congress Centre in central London. Wizard was his first book in 20 years, following 22 years of exile due to his political work.
Born James Ngugi
(1938-01-05) 5 January 1938 (age 79)
Kamiriithu, Kenya Colony
Occupation Writer
Language English, Kikuyu
Alma mater Makerere University
Spouse Njeeri

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Gikuyu pronunciation: [ᵑɡoɣe wá ðiɔŋɔ]; born 5 January 1938)[1] is a Kenyan writer, formerly working in English and now working in Gikuyu. His work includes novels, plays, short stories, and essays, ranging from literary and social criticism to children's literature. He is the founder and editor of the Gikuyu-language journal Mũtĩiri.

In 1977, Ngũgĩ embarked upon a novel form of theatre in his native Kenya that sought to liberate the theatrical process from what he held to be "the general bourgeois education system", by encouraging spontaneity and audience participation in the performances.[2] His project sought to "demystify" the theatrical process, and to avoid the "process of alienation [that] produces a gallery of active stars and an undifferentiated mass of grateful admirers" which, according to Ngũgĩ, encourages passivity in "ordinary people".[2] Although Ngaahika Ndeenda was a commercial success, it was shut down by the authoritarian Kenyan regime six weeks after its opening.[2]

Ngũgĩ was subsequently imprisoned for over a year. Adopted as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, the artist was released from prison, and fled Kenya. In the United States, he taught at Yale University for some years, and has since also taught at New York University, with a dual professorship in Comparative Literature and Performance Studies, and at the University of California, Irvine. Ngũgĩ has frequently been regarded as a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[3][4][5] His son is the author Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ.[6]


Ngũgĩ was born in Kamiriithu, near Limuru in Kiambu district, Kenya, of Kikuyu descent, and baptised James Ngugi. His family was caught up in the Mau Mau War; his half-brother Mwangi was actively involved in the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, and his mother was tortured at Kamiriithu homeguard post.[7] He attended The Alliance High School. He received a B.A. in English from Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, in 1963; during his education, a play of his, The Black Hermit, was produced in Kampala in 1962.

Ngũgĩ published his first novel, Weep Not, Child, in 1964. It was the first novel in English to be published by a writer from East Africa.[8][9] His second novel, The River Between (1965), which was published while he was attending the University of Leeds in England, has as its background the Mau Mau rebellion, and described an unhappy romance between Christians and non-Christians. The River Between is currently on Kenya's national secondary school syllabus.[10][11][12]

His novel A Grain of Wheat (1967) marked his embrace of Fanonist Marxism. He subsequently renounced English, Christianity, and the name James Ngugi as colonialist; he changed his name back to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and began to write in his native Gikuyu and Swahili.

In 1976 he helped set up The Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre which, among other things, organised African Theatre in the area. The uncensored political message of his 1977 play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) provoked the then Kenyan Vice-President Daniel arap Moi to order his arrest. While detained in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Ngũgĩ wrote the first modern novel in Gikuyu, Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ (Devil on the Cross), on prison-issued toilet paper.

After his release, he was not reinstated to his job as professor at Nairobi University, and his family was harassed. Due to his writing about the injustices of the dictatorial government at the time, Ngugi and his family were forced to live in exile. Only after Arap Moi was voted out of office, 22 years later, was it safe for them to return.

His later works include Detained, his prison diary (1981), Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986), an essay arguing for African writers' expression in their native languages rather than European languages, in order to renounce lingering colonial ties and to build an authentic African literature, and Matigari (1987), one of his most famous works, a satire based on a Gikuyu folktale.

In 1992, Ngũgĩ became a professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at New York University, where he held the Erich Maria Remarque Chair. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature as well as the Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.

On 8 August 2004, Ngũgĩ returned to Kenya as part of a month-long tour of East Africa. On 11 August, robbers broke into his high-security apartment: they assaulted Ngũgĩ, sexually assaulted his wife and stole various items of value.[13] Since then, Ngũgĩ has returned to America, and in the summer 2006 the American publishing firm Random House published his first new novel in nearly two decades, Wizard of the Crow, translated to English from Gikuyu by the author.

On 10 November 2006, while in San Francisco at Hotel Vitale at the Embarcadero, Ngũgĩ was harassed and ordered to leave the hotel by an employee. The event led to a public outcry and angered both African-Americans and members of the African diaspora living in America,[14] prompting an apology by the hotel.[15]

His most recent books are Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance, a collection of essays published in 2009 making the argument for the crucial role of African languages in "the resurrection of African memory,"[16] and two autobiographical works: Dreams in a Time of War: a Childhood Memoir (2010) and In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir (2012).

Awards and honours[edit]

Honorary degrees[edit]

List of works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: A Profile of a Literary and Social Activist". Retrieved 20 March 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Decolonising the mind: the politics of language in African literature, 1994, pp. 57–9.
  3. ^ Evan Mwangi, "Despite the Criticism, Ngugi is 'Still Best Writer'". AllAfrica, 8 November 2010.
  4. ^ "Kenyan author sweeps in as late favourite in Nobel prize for literature". The Guardian. 5 October 2010.
  5. ^ "Ngugi wa Thiong'o: a major storyteller with a resonant development message". The Guardian. 6 October 2010.
  6. ^ Mukoma Wa Ngugi website.
  7. ^ Nicholls, Brendon. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, gender, and the ethics of postcolonial reading, 2010, p. 89.
  8. ^ Hans M. Zell, Carol Bundy, Virginia Coulon, A New Reader's Guide to African Literature, Heinemann Educational Books, 1983, p. 188.
  9. ^ 'Ngũgĩ, Leeds and the Establishment of African Literature' by James Currey, in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 74 (December 2012), pp. 48-62
  10. ^ Muchemi Wachira (2 April 2008). "Kenya: Publishers Losing Millions to Pirates". The Daily Nation. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  11. ^ Joseph Ngunjiri (25 November 2007). "Kenya: Ngugi Book Causes Rift Between Publishers". The Daily Nation. Retrieved 14 January 2010. 
  12. ^ "Ngugi Wa Thiong'o Man of Letters". Leeds: Magazine for alumni of the University of Leeds UK. No. 12 Winter 2012/13. Leeds: University of Leeds. 15 February 2013. pp. 22–23. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  13. ^ Jaggi, Maya (26 January 2006). "The Outsider: an interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Incident at Hotel Vitale, San Francisco, California, Friday, November 10, 2006". Africa Resource. 10 November 2006. 
  15. ^ "The Hotel Responds to the Racist Treatment of Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o". Africa Resource. 10 November 2006. 
  16. ^ Publishers Weekly, 26 January 2009.
  17. ^ Rollyson, Carl Edmund; Magill, Frank Northen (June 2003). Critical Survey of Drama: Jane Martin – Lennox Robinson. Salem Press. p. 2466. ISBN 978-1-58765-107-6. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  18. ^ "Some of the Prize Winners". Nonino Distillatori S.p.A. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "Ehrendoktorwürde der Universität Bayreuth für Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (German)". University of Bayreuth. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  20. ^ "Ngugi Wa Thiong’o" Booker Prize Foundation. Accessed 22 October 2016
  21. ^ "James Kelman is UK's hope for Man Booker international prize" The Guardian. Accessed 22 October 2016
  22. ^ John Williams (14 January 2012). "National Book Critics Circle Names 2012 Award Finalists". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  23. ^ "The Nicolas Guillén Philosophical Literature Prize". Caribbean Philosophical Association. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  24. ^ "Ngugi Wa Thiongo wins 6th Pak Kyong-ni Literature Award". September 21, 2016. Retrieved September 24, 2016. 
  25. ^ "43rd graduation" (PDF). University of Dar es Salaam. November 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  26. ^ "Yale awards honorary degrees to eight individuals for their achievements". May 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2017. 
  27. ^ Daily Nation, Lifestyle Magazine, 13 June 2009: Queries over Ngugi's appeal to save African languages, culture

External links[edit]