News Release

Kenyan author Ngugi to speak at Southeastern May 3

Contact: Christina Chapple


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

     HAMMOND – Internationally renowned novelist, literary critic, poet, and playwright Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the exiled Kenyan “literary lion, will present readings from his seventh novel, “Wizard of the Crow,” at 6:30 p.m., May 3 at Southeastern Louisiana University’s Vonnie Borden Theatre.

     Ngũgĩ’s visit to Southeastern is sponsored by the Southeastern Writng Center. His presentation, which is free and open to the public, will be preceded by a reception at 5:30 p.m. in the lobby of D Vickers Hall and will be followed by a booksigining. Copies of his books will be available at the Southeastern bookstore and at the presentation.

     Ngũgĩ, who has become one Africa’s most acclaimed writers, is currently the Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine. “Wizard of the Crow” is his seventh novel and his first new work in nearly two decades of exile from his homeland. He has been the recipient of many honors including the 2001 Nonino International Prize for Literature, election as an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and seven honorary doctorates.

     A magisterial comic novel, “Wizard of the Crow” is Ngũgĩ’s attempt “to sum up Africa of the 20th century in the context of 2,000 years of world history,” the author said. Set in the “Free Republic of Aburĩria,” the novel dramatizes a battle for the control of the souls of the Aburĩrian people. Published in 2006, the novel has been praised for its rich characters, vast canvas, and echoes of traditional African storytelling, and is said to be the crowning achievement to date of Ngũgĩ’s career.

     Born in Kenya in 1938, Ngũgĩ lived through the Mau Mau War of Independence, the central historical episode in the making of modern Kenya. He 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. In 1964, he published his first novel, “Weep Not, Child,” to critical acclaim.

     The year 1977 marked the publication of “Petals of Blood,” which painted a harsh and unsparing picture of life in neo-colonial Kenya. The same year Ngũgĩ’s controversial play, “Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want),” written with Ngũgĩ wa Mirii, was performed in an open air theatre in Limuru.

     For being sharply critical of the inequalities and injustices of Kenyan society, championing the cause of ordinary Kenyans, and committed to communicating with them in the languages of their daily lives, in late 1977 Ngũgĩ was arrested and imprisoned without charge in a maximum security prison. There he wrote the novel “Devil on the Cross” on toilet paper.

     An international uproar -- including protests by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, along with Amnesty International naming Ngũgĩ a Prisoner of Conscience -- secured his release a year later. He was barred by the state from teaching, but resumed his writing and activities in the theater, continuing to criticize the Moi dictatorship.

     After imprisonment, Ngũgĩ abandoned using English as the primary language of his work in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue.

     While Ngũgĩ was in Britain for the launching of “Devil on the Cross,” he learned about the Moi regime’s plans to arrest and imprison him without trial, or worse, eliminate him. This forced him into exile, first in Britain during the 1980s and then the United States after 1989.

     His next Gikuyu novel, “Matigari,” was published in 1986. Thinking that the novel’s main character was a real person, the Moi regime issued an arrest warrant; on learning that the character was fictional, it had the novel  “arrested” and banned instead.

     Ngũgĩ’s novels and nonfiction works have been translated into more than 30 languages and include “A Grain of Wheat,” “The River Between,” “Decolonising the Mind,” and “Moving the Center,” among others.

     In 2004, when Ngũgĩ and his wife Njeeri visited Kenya after 22 years in exile, they were attacked by four robbers and narrowly escaped with their lives. They continue to live in Irvine, Calif., but have spoken out against the violence and have returned to Kenya to give evidence.

     For additional information, about Ngũgĩ’s campus visit, contact the Southeastern writing Center at (985) 549-2076 or or Director Jayetta Slawson at (985) 549-5024.

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