The internationally acclaimed Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has been awarded the 2019 Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize, worth €25 000. He received the prize for his the collection of essays Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, first published in 1986 by Heinemann Educational in Nairobi, Zimbabwe Publishing House in Harare and James Currey in London. The collection is described by online literary magazine Brittle Paper as “one of the most studied, storied and cited books in African literature and postcolonial studies, and the foremost globally arguing for linguistic decolonisation.”
The book that is “gratefully dedicated to all those who write in African languages, and to all those who over the years have maintained the dignity of the literature, culture, philosophy, and other treasures carried by African languages” comprises four essays: The Language of African Literature, The Language of African Theatre, The Language of African Fiction and The Quest for Relevance.
This is the 15th time the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize has been awarded since it was created in 1991. It is given every two years by the city of Osnabrück as it is named after the world-famous writer Erich Maria Remarque, who was born there. It “is awarded, following the ideas of its namesake, for fictional, journalistic or scientific works which set out to engage with inner and outer peace as well as for demonstrating an exemplary commitment to peace, humanity and freedom.”
Lord Mayor Wolfgang Griesert, the representative of the city of Osnabrück on the prize’s jury, said in a statement, “Especially in his essays, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o refers very early to the very current discussion about the consequences of the colonial period – I am thinking, for example, of the question of the return of captured cultural assets – and the necessity of overcoming the power structures in the post-colonial states of Africa.”
Collectively the jury said in a press release, “With Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o we are honouring a writer who is concerned with the self-determination of African cultures and with a dissociation from colonial constraints. His attempt to create a dialogue through literature in spite of or indeed because of the different languages evokes understanding for this continent and can thus contribute towards peace. Also with regard to the avoidance of a new colonialism, as endeavoured today by China, for example, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is an important representative of independence through language.”
In addition to being an author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has taught comparative literature and English at Yale University, New York University and the University of California, Irvine, where he is currently based.
Other winners of the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize in the past decade include Henning Mankell (2009), Tahar Ben Jelloun (2011), Abdallah Frangi and Avi Primor (2013), Adonis (the pseudonym of Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, 2016) and Aslı Erdoğan (2017).