Ngugi wa Thiong'o (ĕngōˈgē wä tē-ŏngˈgō) [key] or James Ngugi, 1938–, Kenyan writer, acclaimed as East Africa's foremost novelist. He studied at universities in Uganda and England. His first novel, Weep Not, Child (1964) and his second, A Grain of Wheat (1967), are accounts of the Mau Mau rebellion. Ngugi is particularly concerned with preserving native African languages, and in 1977 he wrote (with Ngugi wa Mirii) and directed a play, Ngaahika Ndeenda (tr. I Will Marry When I Want, 1982), in Kikuyu. The production was so popular among Kikuyu farmers and workers that the government, fearing the play would encourage political dissent, banned it. Arrested and detained (1978–79) for his novel Petals of Blood, Ngugi wrote about his prison experience in Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary (1981). After his release, he continued to write in Kikuyu and English. In 1982 he went into self-imposed exile in London, later settling in the United States, where he now is a professor at the Univ. of California, Irvine. A triumphant trip home in 2004 was cut short when he and his wife were brutally attacked in Nairobi; they soon returned to the United States.
Ngugi's literary targets have included governmental corruption, socioeconomic exploitation, and religious hypocrisy. Some of his writings, such as the novels Petals of Blood (1977), his last novel in English; Caitaani mutharaba-ini (1980; tr. Devil on the Cross, 1982), his first novel in Kikuyu, written while he was in prison; and Matigari (1986, tr. 1990), are still politically controversial. Ngugi's lengthy novel Murogi wa Kagogo (2004, tr. Wizard of the Crow, 2006) is a surreal, allegorical, and satirical fantasia of corruption, venality, and shape-shifting magic in a fictional postcolonial country resembling his homeland—and other 20th-century African nations. His nonfiction works include Barrel of a Pen (1983), Decolonising the Mind (1986), Moving the Centre (1992), and Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams (1998). He also has written children's books.
See his memoirs, Dreams in Times of War (2010) and In the House of the Interpreter (2012); studies by C. B. Robson (1979), G. D. Killam (1980; as ed., 1984), D. Cook and M. Okenimkpe (1983, repr. 1997), C. Sicherman (1990), C. M. Nwankwo (1992), H. Narang (1995), C. Cantalupo, ed. (1995), I. B. Lar and T. I Ogundare (1998), J. Ogude (1999), S. Gikandi (2000), O. Lovesey (2000), P. Nazareth, ed. (2000), and J. G. Ndigirgi (2006).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.