Other Literary Forms
Ngugi wa Thiong’o is primarily known as a novelist, having published one of the first English-language novels by an East African, Weep Not, Child (1964). This novel, The River Between (1965), A Grain of Wheat (1967), and Petals of Blood (1977) re-create the cultural history of the Gikuyu people and the emergence of modern Kenya. His fifth novel, Caitaani Mutharaba-Ini (1980; Devil on the Cross, 1982), combines elements of Gikuyu oral tradition with satire on neocolonial exploitation and realism portraying the victims of that exploitation. Writing fiction for the first time in his native Gikuyu, Ngugi completed his own translations into Kiswahili and English. In addition to his novels, Ngugi has also published a collection of early short stories, Secret Lives and Other Stories (1975), which gathers his work in this genre from the early 1960’s to the mid-1970’s.
Ngugi has also written extensively as a social and literary critic. His collection of literary criticism, Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture, and Politics (1972), testifies to the maturation of his social vision, including speculations on Mau Mau, nationalism, socialism, and capitalism. A second collection of essays, Writers in Politics (1981; revised 1997), asserts that the function of the writer in society is essentially a political one, however explicitly mute or vocal the writer may choose to be on social issues. In Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary (1981), Ngugi records his experience during his politically motivated incarceration, openly indicting the corruption of neocolonial Kenya and offering insights into his development as a writer and an activist. In a subsequent collection of essays, Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya (1983), Ngugi employs the ideals of the Mau Mau movement to analyze the role of writing and education in contemporary Kenya. His fourth collection of essays, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986), addresses the need for awareness of the dominating colonial legacies of British culture and the obligations of a neocolonial writer in Africa to address his compatriots, his cultural and historical milieu, and his global readership. Ngugi gathered twenty-one short essays and speeches into his next collection, Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms (1993). In three sections, he addresses the challenges of freeing culture from Eurocentrism, from colonial legacy, and from racism, proposing that although its influence cannot be erased, the Western world should not be the primary shaper of culture in Africa and throughout the world. Ngugi’s focus on language and form in African literature and art is revisited in his sixth critical work, Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams: Toward a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State of Africa (1998). In this book, he traces the connections between art and politics, drawing on the example of Africa, where art has been widely used to expose the political sins of those in power.
Ngugi has also granted a number of interviews that have been published. In the 1960’s, he contributed forty-four columns to the Daily Nation, a newspaper in Nairobi, useful for their witness to his humanistic and political growth as a writer and thinker. In 1990, Ngugi expanded his literary canvas still further by publishing two children’s books, Njamba Nene’s Pistol and Njamba Nene and the Flying Bus. Because Ngugi’s themes and concerns are often interwoven among his various modes of discourse, virtually all of his writings help provide an informative context for the reading of his drama.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o is the foremost writer of modern East Africa. Through his novels, essays, and plays, he has garnered the respect of both Africans and others. His fiction offers the single most impressive record of an African country’s precolonial history, its exploitation under colonial rule, its turmoil in gaining independence, and its subsequent struggles to...
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