In This Article Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Surveys
  • Reference Works
  • Debates and Controversies
  • Techniques

African Studies Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
by
Evan Mwangi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0137

Introduction

Kenya’s foremost writer and one of Africa’s most acclaimed artists, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was born on 5 January 1938 to Thiong’o wa Nduucu and Wanjiku wa Ngũgĩ, in Kamĩrĩĩthũ, Limuru, in central Kenya. When he started school as a child, he was baptized James Ngũgĩ, the name he wrote his first several books under. One of his father’s twenty-eight children, Ngũgĩ was the fifth child of the third of Thiong’o’s four wives. He studied at the prestigious Alliance High School (1955–1959) near Nairobi before matriculating at Makerere University in Uganda (1959–1964). He started writing his early works at Makerere, some of which were published in the influential university magazine Penpoint. It was during his postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds in England that Ngũgĩ encountered the writings of Frantz Fanon, which are echoed in almost all his works since A Grain of Wheat (1967). His other major works include the novels Weep Not, Child (1964), The River Between (1965), Petals of Blood (1977), Devil on the Cross (1982), Matigari (1987), and Wizard of the Crow (2006). In theater circles, he is best known for his Kamĩrĩĩthũ experiment of the late 1970s, in which he collaborated with peasants to produce masterworks based on the people’s experiences in postcolonial Kenya. A respected scholar, Ngũgĩ has published several books of essays, the best known of which is Decolonising the Mind (1986), in which he advocates for writing in African languages, a call he continues to make in his later works. He has taught at, among others, the University of Nairobi, Northwestern University, Yale University, New York University, and the University of California, Irvine. Among the awards he has won are the Nonino International Prize (2001) and the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Cabinet (2002). This article provides not only bibliographic details about Ngũgĩ’s works but also secondary references on his works; it begins with General Overviews and Surveys and Reference Works before presenting Ngũgĩ’s works in various genres. The article ends with materials on Ngũgĩ’s themes and techniques, these being some of the abiding concerns among Ngũgĩ scholars.

General Overviews and Surveys

Since the late 1970s, when Ngũgĩ consolidated his reputation as a writer to reckon with, there have been several overviews and surveys of his work. Robson 1979 is the first book-length study of Ngũgĩ’s work and gives an overview of his career, criticizing him for his radicalism. Killam 1980 covers Ngũgĩ’s work published in the 1960s and 1970s and explains the growth of Ngũgĩ’s reputation over the years. First published in 1983, Cook and Okenimkpe 1997 is one of the most easily accessible critical overviews of Ngũgĩ’s writing, including his plays and essays. Bardolph 1991 is a French-language survey that gives an overview of Ngũgĩ’s writing, including the historical contexts in which the works were composed. Sicherman 1995 is an essay offering an overview of Ngũgĩ’s work, especially in relation to his education at Alliance High School, Makerere University, and the University of Leeds. Lovesey 2000 and Williams 1999 are easy-to-read overviews that include theoretical reflections on Ngũgĩ’s work. Gikandi 2000 is the most authoritative work on Ngũgĩ and gives not only the contexts in which the works are written but also a sophisticated interpretation of Ngũgĩ’s aesthetic and political choices.

  • Bardolph, Jacqueline. Ngugi wa Thiong’o: L’homme et l’oeuvre. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    A French-language overview of Ngũgĩ’s work, it includes political and historical contexts of his writing and a chapter on his representation of women. Other topics include militancy in his writing, the decolonization of history through representations of the Mau Mau war for independence, and representations of intellectuals in his fiction.

  • Cook, David, and Michael Okenimkpe. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: An Exploration of his Writings. Oxford: James Currey, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive and easy-to-read discussion of Ngũgĩ’s major works, the book discusses the themes and technique and the implications of Ngũgĩ’s aesthetic choices for peasants and intellectuals. It includes an analysis of Ngũgĩ’s plays and a commentary on his essays, as well as close reading of the novels. First published in 1983.

  • Gikandi, Simon. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511554117E-mail Citation »

    The most authoritative book on Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the book opens with a chapter putting Ngũgĩ and his writing in the context of African cultural production before offering insightful discussions of the works. Contains a useful chronology and a discussion of the plays and essays as well as the fiction.

  • Killam, G. D. An Introduction to the Writing of Ngugi. London: Heinemann Educational, 1980.

    E-mail Citation »

    An accessible analysis of Ngũgĩ’s works written in the 1960s and 1970s, the book places them in historical contexts. The introduction of the book offers an overview of Ngũgĩ’s writing and the main influences on his practice and thinking, including the impact of Christianity on his early works and the affinity of his later writing with Fanon’s theories. It includes an analysis of the plays and short stories.

  • Lovesey, Oliver. Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo. New York: Twayne Publishers, 2000.

    E-mail Citation »

    A clearly written and engaging overview of Ngũgĩ’s work, it covers fiction as well as dramas and essays. It is organized into sections that discuss individual works. The introductory chapter puts Ngũgĩ in the context of Kenyan history, African letters, and postcolonial studies. Includes a rich bibliography.

  • Robson, Clifford B. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. London: Macmillan, 1979.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first book-length study of Ngũgĩ’s work, it gives a critical overview of his novels and short stories, comparing them with writing by other writers from the region. It explains the factors behind Ngũgĩ’s left-wing preoccupations, including his childhood experiences in colonial Kenya. Criticizes Ngũgĩ’s characters as lacking depth and registers disappointment at Ngũgĩ’s leftist politics.

  • Sicherman, Carol. “Ngugi’s Colonial Education: ‘The Subversion . . . of the African Mind.’” African Studies Review 38.3 (1995): 11–41.

    DOI: 10.2307/524791E-mail Citation »

    This is a well-researched and clearly written overview of Ngũgĩ’s ideas, especially his engagement with his colonial heritage. It includes insights from interviews with some of Ngũgĩ’s teachers and colleagues. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Williams, Patrick. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    An introductory work on Ngũgĩ’s writing, the book discusses Ngũgĩ’s works prior to 1999. It offers a chronology, a discussion of each of the novels, and an analysis of the essays. The concluding chapter contains a critical overview in which Williams discusses other critics’ readings of Ngũgĩ. First published in 1998.

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