Ngugi Wa Thiong'o
Ngugi wa Thiong'o was born in Kenya, in 1938 into a large peasant family. A many-sided intellectual, he is novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, editor, academic and social activist.
The Kenya of his birth and youth was a British settler colony (1895-1963). As an adolescent, he lived through the Mau Mau War of Independence (1952-1962), the central historical episode in the making of modern Kenya and a major theme in his early works.
Ngugi burst onto the literary scene in East Africa with the performance of his first major play, The Black Hermit, at the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda, in 1962, as part of the celebration of Uganda’s Independence. In 1967, Ngugi became lecturer in English Literature at the University of Nairobi. During his tenure at Nairobi, Ngugi was at the center of the politics of English departments in Africa, championing the change of name from English to simply Literature to reflect world literature with African and third world literatures at the center.
The year 1977 forced dramatic turns in Ngugi’s life and career. His first novel in ten years, Petals of Blood, was published in July of that year. The novel painted a harsh and unsparing picture of life in neo-colonial Kenya. Sharply critical of the inequalities and injustices of Kenyan society, publicly identified with unequivocally championing the cause of ordinary Kenyans, and committed to communicating with them in the languages of their daily lives, Ngugi was arrested and imprisoned without charge at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison at the end of the year, December 31, 1977.
After Amnesty International named him a Prisoner of Conscience, an international campaign secured his release a year later, December 1978. The Moi regime’s plot to eliminate him forced him into exile, first in Britain (1982 –1989), and then the U.S. after (1989-2002). When he and his wife, Njeeri, returned to Kenya in 2004 after twenty-two years in exile, they were attacked by four hired gunmen and narrowly escaped with their lives.
Ngugi has continued to write prolifically, publishing, in 2006, what some have described as his crowning achievement, Wizard of the Crow, an English translation of the Gikuyu language novel, Murogi wa Kagogo. Ngugi’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages and they continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs, and dissertations. Currently, he is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.