Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0137
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0137
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- African Socialism
- Africans in the Atlantic World
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arab Spring
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Archaeology of West Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Cinema and Television
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Conflict Management and Resolution
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Congo Wars
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Disease and African Society
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economic Anthropology
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Farah, Nuruddin
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Hausa Language and Literature
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Law and the Study of Sub-Saharan Africa
- Law, Islamic
- LGBTI Minorities and Queer Politics in Eastern and Souther...
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Obama and Kenya
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Popular Music
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Religion and Politics in Contemporary Africa
- Sexualities in Africa
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- Soyinka, Wole
- Spanish Colonial Rule
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City-States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey