Ngugi’s 80th Year

Some author publisher relationships stand the test of time.

James Currey (the man) first met James Ngugi (as he was then called) in June 1962 at the ‘Conference of African Writers of English Expression’ held at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda … an event more often referred to as the first African Writers’ conference. Ngugi was a student at Makerere at the time, and asked Chinua Achebe to read the manuscripts of two novels that he had written: The River Between and Weep Not, Child, both of which would be published as early entries in the newly established Heinemann African Writers Series. At the conference Ngugi challenged the emphasis on English as the acceptable means of expression for an African writer and went on to develop these ideas in his novels and plays, pledging to make Gikuyu his first choice of language for his writing.

His influential 1986 book of essays, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (published by James Currey and EAEP in East Africa) has also stood the test of time and was recently listed on the Observer/Guardian’s 10 best books on International Struggle (along with eg Said’s Orientalism).

James Currey notes that, ‘Ngugi has transformed our attitudes to the literatures of Africa. His early novels and plays show that he was a master of fiction and playwriting and he became famous round the world wherever English is read. However, it was when he turned to using Gikuyu that he was detained and the Kenyan government showed how they feared the power of his writing and drama on ordinary people. Decolonising the Mind became a pioneering statement of worldwide influence.’

In 2017 before the Nobel Committee announced Kazuo Ishiguro as the winner of the Literature prize, Ngugi wa Thiong’o had again been rumoured as one of the favourites to win. But this had happened in previous years, and Tee Ngugi in Kenya’s Daily Nation suggested that his father on not winning would be quite likely just to say ‘“Perhaps next time,” … while looking forward with enthusiasm to reading or writing a story, or telling or listening to one.’

Later in 2018 we will be publishing Ngugi: Reflections on a Life of Writing, edited by Simon Gikandi & Ndirangu Wachanga.

Sending 80th Birthday greetings to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who was born on 5 January 1938 in Kamirithu, Kenya.

All power to Ngugi’s pen in the year ahead.