Biography of Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1938-)
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a novel, short story and theatre writer of Kenyan descent. One of the foremost living African novelists, he has also developed a reputation as a post-colonial theorist, and has taught at universities throughout the world.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born James Thiong’o Ngugi in Limuru, Kenya in 1938. He studied at Makerere University in Uganda; as a student there, he published his first short stories. After graduating, he pursued a second bachelor’s degree at Leeds University in England. He eventually became a professor of English, and has taught around the world. As an adult, he dropped his Western first name and adopted his current Bantu name to emphasize his cultural pride. This is why some editions of his early books – including Weep Not, Child and The River Between – are published under the name James Ngugi.
Ngugi is best known for his novel Weep Not, Child, which he wrote while studying at Leeds. However, he has had a prolific career as a novelist, and his style has changed over time. He initially wrote mostly realistic work, but he in recent years has explored a more experimental, magical realist aesthetic. Some of his other well-known novels include Petals of Blood (1977), A Grain of Wheat (1967), and Wizard of the Crow (2006). In 2012, his memoir In the House of the Interpreter was published.
Despite his stylistic shifts, Ngugi's interest in the legacy of colonialism has remained consistent. In 1977, Ngugi publicly announced that he would no longer write in English, and campaigned for other African writers to do the same. Since then, he has published most of his novels in Giyuku, his native language, before translating them himself for English-speaking audiences abroad.
Ngugi’s work is often highly political, which has caused much controversy for him in Kenya. He was imprisoned in 1977 for a year of solitary confinement after his politically provocative play I Will Marry When I Want was first performed. In his theatre, Ngugi attempts to involve the audience directly, which makes his political messages more threatening to authorities. After a decades-long exile from Kenya, Ngugi and his wife returned in 2004, and were assaulted in their home, in what is believed to have been a political attack. However, the couple recovered and has continued to travel and promote Ngugi’s books in Kenya. In recent years, he has been considered a frontrunner to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ngugi currently holds a post as Distinguished Professor in Comparative Literature and English at the University of California, Irvine.