Kenyan author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has become the first author to be nominated for the International Booker Prize as author and translator of the same book. He is also the first nominated author writing in an African language. Here are 5 facts about the 83-year old author.
- His work was banned by Kenya’s Government
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is an activist that was jailed for his outspoken intellectualism. In 1977, the author wrote and staged the play Ngaahika Ndeenda ( I Will Marry When I Want). The play encouraged spontaneity and audience participation. It was shut down by the government six weeks after its opening. Thiong’o was subsequently detained without trial in a maximum-security prison. After a year in jail, he was adopted as an Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience” and released from prison. He then fled Kenya and resettled in the United States.
- He accepted the Catalonia International Prize in his mother tongue
Thiong’o is a big proponent of the equality of languages. He wrote his novels in English until the 1970s when made the decision to write in Gikuyu. He wrote the first modern Gikuyu novel, Devil on the Cross, in prison. The writer told the Guardian in a 2006 interview: “In prison I began to think in a more systematic way about language. Why was I not detained before, when I wrote in English? It was there that I made my decision. I don’t know if I’d have broken through the psychological block if not forced by history.”
- He’s been a professor for 54 years
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was a professor of English literature at the University of Nairobi early in his career. After fleeing Kenya and resettling in the US, Thiong’o became Visiting Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University in Connecticut (1989-1992). While teaching at Yale, he also worked as a Visiting Distinguished Professor of English and African Literature at The Five Colleges (Amherst, Mount Holyoke, New Hampshire, Smith, East Massachusetts). He was also a professor at New York University, Byreuth University, and, currently, teaches at the University of California Irvine
- He returned to Kenya in 2004, after 22 years in exile
When he returned to Kenya in 2004, he was attacked by hired gunman at his high-security apartment. He and his wife Njeeri narrowly escaped with their lives. Five men were arrested as suspects, including Ngũgĩ’s own nephew.
- Four of his children are also published authors
The literary spirit runs strong with the Thiong’o family. His children Tee Ngũgĩ, Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ, Nducu wa Ngũgĩ, and Wanjiku wa Ngũgĩ are all also published authors.
For info on some of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s books, click here.
What’s your favorite Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o piece?