Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ngugi wa Thiong'o 1938-

(Born James Thiong'o Ngugi; also transliterated as Ngũgĩ) Kenyan novelist, playwright, essayist, short story writer, children's writer, and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Ngugi's career through 2002. See also Ngugi wa Thiong'o Criticism.

As a spokesman for his people and a chronicler of Kenya's modern history, Ngugi is widely regarded as one of the most significant writers of East Africa. His first novel, Weep Not, Child (1964), was the first English-language novel to be published by an East African, and his account of the Mau Mau Emergency in A Grain of Wheat (1967; revised, 1986) presented for the first time an African perspective on the Kenyan armed revolt against British colonial rule during the 1950s. Additionally, Ngugi's Caitaani Mutharaba-ini (1980; Devil on the Cross) is the first modern novel written in Gikuyu (or Kikuyu), a Kenyan language in which the author intends to continue writing his creative works. He has also been influential in education in East Africa and is recognized as a humanist deeply interested in the growth and well-being of his people and country.

Biographical Information

Born James Thiong'o Ngugi to Thiong'o wa Nduucu and Wanjika wa Ngugi, Ngugi is the fifth child of the third of Thiong'o's four wives. Ngugi was born on January 5, 1938, in Limuru, Kenya, and was one of the few students from Limuru to attend the elite Alliance High School. While at Alliance, he participated in a debate in which he contended that Western educations were harmful to African students. The headmaster subsequently counseled Ngugi against becoming a political agitator. Ngugi next attended Makerere University in Uganda and later the University of Leeds in England, where he was exposed to West-Indian born social theorist Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, a highly controversial treatise in which the author maintains that political independence for oppressed peoples must be won—often violently—before genuine social and economic change may be achieved. Ngugi became influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, developing an ardent opposition to colonialism, Christianity, and other non-African influences in Kenya. During this period, he also began to write plays and novels criticizing Kenyan society and politics. In 1962 his first full-length play, The Black Hermit, was performed at the Uganda National Theatre. In the early 1960s he worked as a regular columnist for Sunday Post, Daily Nation, and the Sunday Nation. Ngugi wrote his first novel, Weep Not, Child, while he was a student at Makerere. In 1968 Ngugi—then an instructor at the University of Nairobi—and several colleagues mounted a successful campaign to transform the school's English Department into the department of African Languages and Literature. After the publication of A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi rejected his Christian name of James and began writing under the name Ngugi wa Thiong'o. He also began translating his play The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) into Gikuyu—under the title Mzalendo Kimathi. Ngugi published his last English-language novel, Petals of Blood, in 1977. Due to his vocal opposition of the injustices perpetrated by the postcolonial Kenyan government, Ngugi was arrested and imprisoned without charge in the Kamoto Maximum Security Prison from December 1977 to December 1978. While imprisoned, Ngugi wrote his memoirs, Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary (1981), and vowed to write his creative works only in the Gikuyu language. He began writing his first Gikuyu novel, Devil on the Cross, on sheets of toilet paper from his cell. Upon his release from detention, Ngugi lost his position at the University of Nairobi. When his theatre group was banned by Kenyan officials in 1982, Ngugi, fearing further reprisals, left his country for a self-imposed exile. After the release of Matigari ma Njiruungi (Matigari ) in 1986, the Kenyan government issued a warrant for the arrest of the main character, thinking that Matigari was a...

(The entire section is 94,486 words.)