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7 - Note from a Literary Son

from Part I - Serenades & Beginnings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2019

Peter Kimani
Affiliation:
founding faculty member of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently the Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
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Summary

A waiter at a popular cafe in Irvine, California, narrated his encounters with an elderly customer. He came in regularly, the waiter recalled, usually on his own, and sat in a corner, under a heap of paper. Page after page, he ploughed through, reading out in a language the waiter did not understand, pausing to scribble before reading some more. The old man, the waiter concluded, was a refugee from some African country, and was learning English to enhance his chances of securing residency in America. So, in solidarity with a fellow African, the waiter ensured the old man's coffee bills were heavily discounted, always excluded gratuity.

One can imagine the waiter's chagrin when, months later, he came across a feature in a major American newspaper profiling his hermitic customer. The article said the elderly man was one of Africa's greatest living writers, and a distinguished professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. The waiter had merely encountered Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o at work, probably polishing up novels that he usually writes in his first language, Gĩkũyũ.

Ngũgĩ means many things to different people. Like his fictional character, Matigari, whom Kenyan authorities sought to apprehend in the early 1980s, apparently because everyone was talking about him, he has been able to morph into larger-than-life forms. He was deified in Moi's Kenya, whispered about because his memory inspired suspicion from the authorities, who claimed he wanted to overthrow the government. Since writers bear pens, not guns, this vista of a revolutionary camouflaged as a writer inspired awe and dread.

Our first encounter was in 1986, when I joined high school. Our point of contact, his seminal novel, Weep Not, Child. The family feud re-enacted in the novel had Shakespearean echoes, for sure, but this was my story, talking about what elderly folks in my village called Mbara ya Imageneti. The Emergency War. And the characters in the novel bore names like mine and my classmates. For the next two decades, what sustained and buoyed my interest in the written word was the conviction that a Kenyan writer had written such a compelling story about his time. So, there was no reason for me not to make a similar attempt.

Type
Chapter
Information
Ngugi
Reflections on his Life of Writing
, pp. 51 - 52
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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  • Note from a Literary Son
    • By Peter Kimani, founding faculty member of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently the Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
  • Edited by Simon Gikandi, Ndirangu Wachanga
  • Book: Ngugi
  • Online publication: 27 July 2019
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787443853.012
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  • Note from a Literary Son
    • By Peter Kimani, founding faculty member of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently the Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
  • Edited by Simon Gikandi, Ndirangu Wachanga
  • Book: Ngugi
  • Online publication: 27 July 2019
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787443853.012
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Note from a Literary Son
    • By Peter Kimani, founding faculty member of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently the Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
  • Edited by Simon Gikandi, Ndirangu Wachanga
  • Book: Ngugi
  • Online publication: 27 July 2019
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787443853.012
Available formats
×