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12 - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o at 80: Inspiring Encounters

from Part II - Memories, Recollections & Tributes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2019

Willy Mutunga
Affiliation:
Kenya's Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2016.
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Summary

Ngũgĩ has been my brother, mentor, comrade. As one of the leading African Marxist intellectuals and revolutionaries, a Pan-Africanist, and a Kenyan patriot, he has been one of my role models and teachers. Since I met him through his novel Weep Not, Child in the 1960s, and later as a colleague at the University of Nairobi in the 1970s, he has inspired and guided me in my intellectual, ideological, political, cultural and overall revolutionary development. He has taught me, and many others, what it means to be an organic intellectual in our country, region, continent, and the world. In celebrating Ngũgĩ's 80th birthday I want to share some of these inspiring encounters.

Encountering Ngũgĩ's Works

I first met Ngũgĩ through his novel Weep Not, Child when I was a student at Kitui Secondary School in Eastern Kenya. My English Literature teacher, Michael Drury, had spent some time at Makerere College (later to become Makerere University), where he had met Ngũgĩ. He talked to us a lot about Ngũgĩ as he taught us English Literature through our set books, which included Shakespeare's Macbeth, George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. Mr. Drury was particularly able to relate Ngũgĩ to the last title, but his greatest influence was to simply ask us to read Ngũgĩ's works. He prophesied that Ngũgĩ would one day become a great and world-famous writer.

I did not get to read Ngũgĩ comprehensively until I joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi in 1974. The Department of Literature was then the leading radical and revolutionary department at the University of Nairobi. Among famous lecturers in the department were Ngũgĩ, Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo, Kimani Gecau, Gacheche Waruingi, and two great Ugandans, John Ruganda and Okot p'Bitek. The Department of Literature inspired me immediately. After deciding to teach my law courses within historical, socioeconomic, cultural, and political contexts of Kenya I valued the activism and works coming out of this department. Soon Ngũgĩ's Petals of Blood, The Devil on the Cross, Ngaahika Ndeenda (‘I Will Marry When I Want’) found their way into my reading lists at the Faculty of Law. One of my brilliant law students, Professor Kivutha Kibwana, now Governor of Makueni, was active in the projects of the Department of Literature, particularly the Free Travelling Theatre.

Type
Chapter
Information
Ngugi
Reflections on his Life of Writing
, pp. 69 - 74
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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