Awards Kenya

Kenyan Writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o Among Favorites to Win 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature

Ngugi Wa Thiongo
Ngugi Wa Thiongo

The Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded by the Swedish Academy, is given annually to an author who, in the words of the will of Alfred Nobel, produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Although some individual literary works have been considered noteworthy, Nobel’s use of the word work is understood to refer to the author’s entire body of work. Although the date for the announcement of the 2015 award winner has yet to be set by the Swedish Academy, it is typically announced in early October.

The nominees for the award are nominated by members of the Academy, members of literature academies and societies, professors of literature and language, former Nobel literature laureates, and the presidents of writers’ organizations. The 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature nominees have produced work in a wide array of subjects and mediums and include authors such as Svetlana Alexievich, Haruki Murakami, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Joyce Carol Oates, and Phillip Roth.

The Kenyan born Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, originally named James Thiong’o Ngugi, has been nominated in past years and is considered a top-three favorite to finally win the award in 2015 according to experts aligned with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, known for his outspoken views on African authors’ use of the English language, is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine.

Ngugi’s first major work, The Black Hermit (1963), was a play he composed and performed in. It debuted in East Africa as a part of the celebration of Uganda’s Independence. A year later, Ngugi’s Weep Not, Child was published and heralded as the first major novel written in English by an East African. Although he was a pioneer of writing in English as an African, Ngugi eventually turned to the Bantu language of Kenya’s Kikuyu people after realizing the effects colonialism and the English language had on Africa. Ngugi believed using English as an African author perpetuated the colonialism.

Ngugi wrote numerous plays, essays, lectures and novels. He expressed his ideas on literature, culture and politics through a wide variety of mediums providing extensive evidence of his literary skill. His strong views earned him the status of one of Africa’s most articulate social activists and critics but also gained him harsh critics and eventual enemies.

The release of his novel, Petals of Blood, and play, Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), in 1977 caught the attention of the Kenyan government and the Moi Dictatorship resulting in his imprisonment. It was this time in jail that convinced Ngugi to abandon English and turn to his native tongue. He was released the following year after Amnesty International spearheaded a campaign against his uncharged arrest.

Ngugi and his wife were exiled from Kenya for 24 years before returning in 2004. Unfortunately despite the Moi Dictatorship losing power two years earlier, Ngugi and his wife were attacked after re-entering the country and barely escaped with their lives. Ngugi continued his writing and began publishing again in 2006 with what many consider his greatest achievement, Wizard of the Crow, an English translation of the Gikuyu language novel, Murogi wa Kagogo. Ngugi’s most recent work was a memoir of his childhood in Kenya titled Dreams in a Time of War (2010) and his continued memoir In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir (2012).

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has received ten Honorary Doctorates including Honorary PhD, Roskilde, Denmark: Honorary Doctor of Literature and Philosophy, Walter Sisulu University; Honorary Doctor of Literature, University of Auckland; Honorary Doctor of Letters, New York University; Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Dar es Saalam; and Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Bayreuth to name a few. Most recently he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014.

Ngugi’s nomination for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature comes as no surprise as he has been previously nominated. His work as a play-write, journalist, novelist, essayist, editor, academic and activist has earned him another nomination and will hopefully earn him the Nobel Prize to join his 1973 Lotus Prize for Literature, 2001 Nonino International Prize for Literature, 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, and his 2014 Nicolás Guillén Lifetime Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature.

By James Murua

This blog is run by James Murua a Nairobi, Kenya based lover of books.

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