Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a legendary Kenyan writer, journalist, editor, academic, playwright and social activist. He was born in Kenya in 1938. He was the headlining author at the recently concluded Ake Arts & Book Festival.
Ngugi made his big debut into the literary scene with the performance of his first major play The Black Hermit at the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda in 1962.
He has written a lot of books in English and his native language Gikuyu.
In 1977, he was imprisoned for writing the play I will marry when I want in his native language Gikuyu. He was detained for years and it was during this time, he made a decision to write in his mother tongue. This was done to prove to his captors that imprisoning him wouldn’t stop him from being realistic and also to revive writing in indigenous languages.
“All language come from the same river” he maintained at a discussion with Okey Ndibe at last week’s Ake Festival. He implored writers to write in their indigenous language and chastised the government for what he called their ‘criminalisation of African languages’. He revealed he was working on a memoir at the festival.
The first ever Gikuyu novel he wrote, Devil on the Cross, was written on prison-issued toilet paper which was the only paper available to him at that time.
In 1978, following a campaign by Amnesty International, Ngugi was released in 1978. After missing his position at the Nairobi University and learning of president Moi’s plan to eliminate him, he left Kenya in 1982 and went on an exile to Britain and then the USA.
While on exile, he worked with the London based committee for the release of political prisoners in Kenya. He stayed on exile for the duration of Moi’s dictatorship (1982-2002). During this period also, he was a professor at various prestigious universities.
Ngugi has received a lot of well deserved honors. He was awarded the 2001 Nonino International prize for Literature and has received 10 honorary doctorates. He has been tipped for the Nobel Award in Literature many times.
Africa, meet our #MCM for the week, Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o, writer and legend.