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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1461

Along with Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (ehn-GEW-gee wah tee-ONG-goh) of Kenya is one of the increasing number of African writers of international stature and reputation. Born James Ngugi in Kamiriithu village, twelve miles northeast of Nairobi, to Thiong’o wa Nducu and one of his four wives, Ngugi came of age during the Mau Mau resistance to British colonial rule. His father was one of many Gikuyu farmers who, dispossessed of their land in the Kiambu District, were forced to become laborers on their own farms. One of twenty-eight children in the extended family, Ngugi was until the age of nine raised with a mixture of Gikuyu traditional customs and Christian values. From 1947 to 1949, he attended the mission school in nearby Limuru, and he completed his primary education in Maanguu at one of the schools founded in the Independence Schools Movement, a cooperative undertaking by those who viewed education as essential in their fight for freedom from British rule.{$S[A]Ngugi, James;Ngugi wa Thiong’o}

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Ngugi’s secondary education continued his development of dual perspectives inherent in the colonial and nationalistic curricula at the previous schools. From 1948 to 1954, he studied at Alliance High School in Kikuyu, eight miles northwest of Nairobi. There he encountered the missionary headmaster Carey Francis, whose rigid views and disdain for Gikuyu customs Ngugi later depicted in fictional form. Although Ngugi eventually acquired a complex religious but humanistic sensibility through his examination of biblical lore and Christian teachings, the Protestant bias against Africans and their beliefs left a bitter legacy that influenced him long after his adolescent years. During this period, Ngugi’s family was engaged in the Mau Mau struggle. His brother, Wallace Mwangi, fought with Mau Mau forces from 1954 to 1956. His parents and other relatives were detained as subversives, and a stepbrother was killed in the fighting. His entire home village was relocated by the British during the warfare between 1952 and 1956. Although he himself did not fight because of his young age and the responsibility to pursue his education, Ngugi came to view the Mau Mau struggle as a model of the heroic quest for independence and as an idealized example of the worldwide fight against social injustice. Indeed, the Mau Mau war became the central theme and subject for much of his later fiction and drama.

After he graduated from high school, Ngugi in 1963 completed work in the honors English program at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, then the only school in East Africa that conferred degrees in English literature. Productive in his own creative efforts, Ngugi drafted his first two novels, several short stories, his first play, and two additional one-act plays. He was also active in literary circles and contributing to the Nairobi newspaper Daily Nation, and in his creative writing he showed the influence of the novels of D. H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad; he did not seem to object to the conventional colonial syllabus under which he studied. In 1961, he had married Nyambura, and during this time they had two sons, the first of five children. In 1964, Ngugi left Africa to pursue a degree in English studies at Leeds University in England. There his exposure to socialism and the radical views of students who openly debated issues of social and political justice set him on a transformatory journey. He had reached a point of crisis, and, pondering the issue of universal values, he began to question the value of continuing to write in English. He traveled to literary conferences in New York and Moscow, meeting several radical writers, and also began to study Caribbean literature. Work on his novel A Grain of Wheat , which he began drafting at this...

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