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11 - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o at 80: Pongezi (Congratulations!)

from Part II - Memories, Recollections & Tributes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2019

Eddah Gachukia
Affiliation:
Vice-Chair, Riara University Governing Council. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi.
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Summary

Looking back over a period of five decades, I believe that my decision to resume school as a mature age student was a turning point, with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o unknowingly playing a critical role in my studies and future orientation. Although I had studied English Literature at secondary school and at Makerere College, I was oblivious of the fact that Africa had a body of literature worth studying. I proceeded to teach English Literature at secondary school level for nearly four years before going to Leeds University to study for a certificate in ‘The Teaching of English as a Second Language’ for a year. By coincidence, the topic I picked for my main paper at Leeds was entitled ‘The Teaching of English Literature in Kenyan Secondary Schools’.

Although I recorded the challenges of culture and background in understanding such literature, it never occurred to me that there was any other alternative. My training as a teacher at Makerere had taught me that in the teaching of any subject, you started from the known to the unknown as a mandatory cognitive principle. How then was I supposed to relate Jane Austen's Emma to the ‘known’ in my introduction? How were my students and I expected to relate to the ‘drawing room’ in the novel? For us the drawing room was the room where Emma retreated whenever she wanted to draw!

Mercifully, my entry into the first-year degree program at the University of Nairobi coincided with the great debate generated by the trio—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (James Ngũgĩ at the time), Owuor Anyumba, and Taban lo Liyong. In a 1968 paper entitled ‘On the abolition of the English Department’, they sought to adopt the ‘Literature Department’ as the preferred title of the program, and went further to employ the cognitive principle of beginning from the known to the unknown. But their proposal was not simply a title change; they were calling for the total overhaul of the curriculum of the then English Department.

The proposed curriculum recognized the importance of African Literature as a critical, central core of the study of literature in Africa. East African Literature was to become the most logical introduction to African Literature in English.

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Chapter
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Ngugi
Reflections on his Life of Writing
, pp. 66 - 68
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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