International literary icon Ngugi Wa Thiong’o was among 500 people who President Uhuru Kenyatta conferred with national awards during the country's "Jamhuri" (i.e. Republic) Day celebrations last Saturday.
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Among several awardees, Ngugi wa Thiong’o was awarded the Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear (second class) while visiting Liberian President Ellen Johnson was awarded the Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart – the highest award.
Of all his global accolades over the decades, this one must surely strike home for the writer, whose early life was marred with struggle against his home country's dictatorial government at the time – to the effect that his writings based on that era, continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs, and dissertations worldwide - in more than 30 languages.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o burst onto the literary scene in 1962, with the performance of his first major play, The Black Hermit, at the National Theatre in Uganda. He subsequently began a novel form of theatre in his country Kenya, that encouraged audience participation, and discouraged passivity among the masses. The autocratic government of the day disapproved of this and shut down the highly successful series.
Some of his other advocacies were against the emphasis on English language and English history study, to the detriment of those of Africa.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o subsequently published many literary works that received critical acclaim before and up to his tenure as lecturer in English Literature at the University of Nairobi. These works include: "Weep Not Child" (1964), "The River Between (1965), and "A Grain of Wheat" (1967). It was while there, that he published the bombshell: "Petals of Blood", which painted an unsparing picture of life in neo-colonial Kenya. This even more emphatic critical acclaim in Kenya and abroad, and together with a subsequent uncensored political play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), led to his imprisonment without charge in the same year (1977).
While in prison, Ngugi made the decision to abandon English as his primary language of creative writing and has since created his works in his native Gikuyu and Swahili. He subsequently wrote, on toilet paper, the novel, Caitani Mutharabaini (1981) translated into English as Devil on the Cross, (1982).
One year later Amnesty International named Ngugi a Prisoner of Conscience, and an international campaign secured his release – after which he and his family were forced into exile, until 2004.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. He is the recipient of ten Honorary Doctorates, and various international awards including: the Lotus Prize for Literature (1973), Nonino International Prize for Literature (2001), and Nicolás Guillén Lifetime Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature (2014).
Ngugi's most famous work is "Wizard of the Crow" (2006), and other recent books include: "Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance" (2009), a collection of essays making the argument for the crucial role of African languages in "the resurrection of African memory" and two autobiographical works: "Dreams in a Time of War: a Childhood Memoir" (2010) and "In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir" (2012).