Ngugi wa Thiong'o Additional Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born James Ngugi in Kamiriithu village, twelve miles northeast of Nairobi, on January 5, 1938. His father, Thiong’o wa Nducu, was a farmer who had been dispossessed of his land in the White Highlands of the Kiambu District and forced to squat as a laborer on what had been his homeland. As a result of the British Imperial Land Act of 1915, many Gikuyu farmers—deprived of legal rights—had been reduced to farming the land of well-to-do British settlers or influential Africans who had been granted parcels in the confiscation of the fertile area by the British governor. Ngugi’s father farmed for one of the few Africans who had retained property. His mother was one of four wives, and he was one of twenty-eight children in the extended family.

Until about the age of nine, Ngugi was reared according to a mixture of traditional Gikuyu customs and Christian principles. Beginning in 1947, he attended the mission school of Kamaandura in nearby Limuru for two years; subsequently, he completed his primary education in the village of Maanguu at a school established by the Karing’a, the Independence Schools Movement, a cooperative undertaking by Kenya’s Africans who viewed education as a vital component in their struggle for freedom from British rule. From his earliest years in school, Ngugi experienced both the colonial and the nationalistic perspectives inherent in the respective curricula.

Ngugi received his secondary education at Alliance High School in Kikuyu. There Ngugi encountered principal Carey Francis, a man with rigid missionary views and a strict bias for the values of European civilization, who would become the prototype of the missionary headmaster in Ngugi’s fiction. There, too, Ngugi acquired a complex religious sensibility, integrating biblical study and Christian mythology with his Gikuyu background. His experiences at Alliance High School constitute one of the shaping influences of his adolescent life.

During this period, Ngugi’s family was deeply involved in the Mau Mau resistance. His brother, Wallace Mwangi, fought with the clandestine Mau Mau forces in the forests from 1954 to 1956. His parents, as well as other relatives, were detained for the subversion of colonial rule. A stepbrother was killed by government troops, and his home village was relocated. Ngugi himself did not engage in combat, and although his youth provided him with a measure of justification, he suffered considerable guilt. Reflection on the Mau Mau as an ideal model for the fight against social injustices would be a central theme in his work.

After Ngugi’s graduation from high school, he entered Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, the only school then conferring degrees in English literature in East Africa. An outstanding student, he completed work in the Honors English program in 1963. During this period, Ngugi began his creative writing, editing the student journal Penpoint, writing several short stories, drafting his...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who published as James Ngugi until 1970, was born in 1938 near Limuru, a Kikuyu region of Kenya. He received a varied education, alternating between mission schools and an institution that grew out of the independence schools movement, the aim of which was to prepare Kenya’s young people for freedom from British rule. The Mau Mau war disrupted Ngugi’s education and had a profound impact on his family: His brother Walter fought with the Mau Mau, and his parents were detained as subversives. Ngugi’s experiences during the war made a lasting impression on him and served as the basis for his first three novels.

In 1955, Ngugi entered Alliance High School, a missionary institution from which he graduated. His literary career developed rapidly once he became a student at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda. There he edited the student literary magazine, Penpoint, and wrote The Black Hermit, a play celebrating Uganda’s independence.

In 1964, Ngugi published his first novel, which won two prizes, one from the 1965 Dakar Festival of Negro Arts and one from the East African Literature Bureau. After working for the Sunday Nation, a Nairobi newspaper, he attended graduate school at the University of Leeds in England. He returned to Kenya in 1968 to take up a lectureship in the English department at University College, Nairobi, and in 1969 he resigned that post in protest against government...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o (ehn-GEW-gee wah tee-ONG-goh) is a member of the Gikuyu tribe of Kenya. He was born James Thiong’o Ngugi in Kamiriithu village, near Limuru, Kenya, on January 5, 1938, to Thiong’o wa Nduucu and Wanjika wa Ngugi, the fifth child of the third of his father’s four wives. He lived for a while in a household of almost thirty children. His father was a tenant farmer and the family lived in poverty. His parents separated when he was about eight years old; he lived afterward with his mother and six siblings. His family neither converted to Christianity nor practiced the religious rituals of the Gikuyu because of his father’s religious skepticism. As a young man, Ngugi practiced Christianity for a while but later...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s body of work portrays precolonial, colonial, and postindependent Kenya. He movingly depicts the deadly effects of imperialism on an indigenous people, both in the clashes between cultures and the conflict created within the native culture. In Ngugi’s fiction, once Kenyans have freed themselves from the domination of the white colonists and have reclaimed their sacred trust—the land—they must then confront the problems that come with independence. There is great struggle and suffering in Ngugi’s fiction, and it is not always neatly balanced with hope.


Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born in 1938 in Kamiriithu, just north of Nairobi, in Kenya. Ngugi’s family belonged to the Gikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group. Ngugi attended a mission school and became a devout Christian. At school he also learned about the Gikuyu history and values and he completed the Gikuyu rite of passage ceremony. Later in life, he rejected Christianity.

Ngugui attended Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda in 1963. He also completed graduate studies at Leeds University in England. He first gained attention in East Africa for his performance of his first major play “The Black Hermit” in 1962.

He completed the manuscript for The River Between before completing what became his first published novel, Weep Not, Child, in 1964. This was the first novel in English to be published by an East African author. The River Betweenreflects the aftermath of the Mau Mau Rebellion, the uprising of African tribes against British control. The story is set in the 1920s and 1930s and portrays the divisions between African and the English, Christians and the Gikuyu, and two young people who fall in love amid these fractions.

Ngugi’s third novel, A Grain of Wheat, also expores the break with nationalism and new birth—and also references the Mau Mau Rebellion. In his own family, Ngugi’s brother joined the movement and his stepbrother was killed. His mother was also arrested and tortured as Ngugi’s village suffered during this event.

Ngugi also was a reporter in Nairobi for The Daily Nation. His essays, columns, and plays are important for his using English as a primary language instead of Gikuyu. His later works, including Petals of Blood, present a harsh picture of life in post-colonial Kenya. He also wrote controversial plays and in 1977 was arrested and imprisoned. During this time, he wrote Detained: A Writer’s Diary (1982), in which he left English as his primary language and wrote in Gikuyu. His later works were translated into English.

Ngugi went to London for a self-imposed exile and later traveled to the Sweden and then the United States, where he has served at several universities as a professor. He is currently a professor at the University of California at Irvine.


(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Ngugi was born James Ngugi in 1938 in Limuru in the Gikuyu Highlands of Kenya. Like many of the dispossessed peasants in Petals of...

(The entire section is 564 words.)


(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

East Africa's most prominent writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, was born James Thiong'o Ngugi, in Limuru, Kenya, on January 5,1938. In order to shed...

(The entire section is 537 words.)