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July 2012

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Watoto Wetu: Ngugi, Son of the soil!

Written by , Posted in From Mama Mike

Hi Mama Mikerz,

We’re introducing a new series called: “Watoto Wetu” to highlight the achievements of Kenyans and other notable Africans Living in the Diaspora, with a special emphasis on women.

And our debut post is on the one and only Ngugi Wathiongo, son of the soil.

Ngugi Wa Thiongo is a prolific writer, who has won the prestigious Lotus Prize for Literature, and was even nominated  for a Nobel Peace Prize in Literature in 2010.

He was born in 1938 near Limuru, in Kiambu District, Kenya. His family was heavily involved in the independence struggle through the Mau Mau war and the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. His mother was tortured by the Kamiriithu Home guard Post, something that greatly influenced his future writing.

Nonetheless, he excelled at school and graduated from Makerere University with a BA in English. His first work of note was a play called the black hermit, which was published in 1962.

From that period, onwards he continued to publish books and plays that touched heavily on the effect of the struggle for Independence on the psyche of Africans – both freedom fighters and collaborators.

After his 1967 book, A Grain Of Wheat, he renounced English and Christianity, as well as his baptismal name: James Ngugi as colonialist and began writing in Gikuyu and Kiswahili.

In 1977, a political play he wrote titled, I will marry when I want, provoked the Kenyan administration at the time and his arrest was ordered. While detained, he continued to write on prison toilet paper. His writing led to harassment and subsequent exile. 

During his time in exile, he continued to urge other African writers to write in their native languages in order to sever colonial ties. In 1992, he became a professor at the New York University, where he taught Comparative Literature.

He currently works as a Professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at the University of California In Irving, where also serves as the Director for the school’s Center for writing and translation.

He is a self-proclaimed pan-Africanist who has been praised for his work but criticized for living in the diaspora while renouncing colonialism and English.

Mama Mikerz, what other Kenyans or Africans living in the Diaspora do you admire and why?

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