Ngugi Wa Thiong’o accepted the Premi Internacional Catalunya 2019 from his California, United States base on September 3, 2020.
Premi Internacional Catalunya (which in English from Catalan is the Catalonia International Prize) is an international prize, awarded every year by the Generalitat de Catalunya in Spain since 1989. It recognizes the work of people who have not only contributed to the development of culture, science, economics, etc. but have also stood out for having done their work with a high ethical and humanistic commitment. Previous writing winners have been Nawal al-Sa’dawi, Doris Lessing, Yashar Kemal, and Haruki Murakami.
The winner of the award for 2019 is Kenyan writer and academic Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. The jury of the Prize, chaired by the President of the Generalitat, gave him the award for his “distinguished and risky literary work and for his defence of African languages, based on the notion of language as a culture and collective memory.”
The award was handed out to the venerated father of Kenyan letters virtually with the Covid-19 pandemic still making travelling for most out of the question. The award ceremony was a video conference with the winner alongside delegate president of the Prize jury, Mary Ann Newman; editor of the work of Prof Ngugi, Laura Huerga; writer and president of PEN International, Carles Torner; as well as Prof Simon Gikandi and writer Aminatta Forna. President Torra closed the ceremony.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, in line with his famous call for all to communicate in their mothertongue, gave his acceptance speech completely in Kikuyu.
“The Premi Internacional Prize has touched my heart in special ways,” Ngugi said. “When I received the news in December 2019, I was lying on a hospital bed at UC Medical Centre, feeling completely helpless because I had just undergone a heart surgery: a triple by-pass. Before the surgery, I had already written my will. So when I received the news of the award, I felt as if I was being met with ululations of a welcome back home from the land of the Dead. Tears of gratitude and joy welled up in my eyes.”
If you can speak in Kikuyu, watch the whole speech by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o below. If you do not speak Kikuyu, Kenya’s The Standard has transcribed the speech into English and you can read that here.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o receives a cash prize of €80,000 and a work of art.