2024 Lilly Library Ngũgĩ Lecture

Mazrui called Ngũgĩ, 85, a Kenyan native now living in California, a leading critic and theorist in post-colonial studies.

“His combined role as writer and politico-cultural activist has been particularly inspiring to the younger generation of African writers,” said Mazrui in an email. “Since his move to the U.S., his own revolutionary orientation on the interplay between literature and society has also become more globalized.” 

The two have shared major life experiences. “We worked together as members of the political underground against dictatorship and exploitation in Kenya and have remained in touch since then,” said Mazrui, a professor of sociolinguistics, literature and comparative cultural studies at Rutgers in New Jersey. 

Mazrui said his scholarly focus, consistent with his sociolinguist training, has been on Ngũgĩ’s position on the language question in Africa’s liberation, “arguably the most controversial among the wide range of topics he has addressed over the decades. And it is the language question that will be the primary focus of my presentation.”


“Among his peers of university-educated African writers his commitment to the promotion of African languages and their use in creative works has been unmatched.”   - Alamin Mazrui
A person wearing glasses with short grey hair and a mustache looks directly into the camera

"The Ngũgĩ lecture series, which will continue indefinitely, was created as part of IU’s contract to purchase the archives Ngũgĩ offered to the Lilly Library," said Erika Dowell, associate director and curator of the library’s modern manuscripts. The lectures are dedicated to exploring his writings and influence, his place in African and world literature, and other aspects of his life.

 “Anyone interested in literature would benefit by hearing someone talk about Ngũgĩ,” said Dowell. “He’s a very famous author and it’s a great opportunity. People in African studies and studying African literature might be familiar with his work,"she added, "but the event also should interest those new to African literature and prompt them to read works they wouldn’t have otherwise." 

A person wearing a hat looks to the right of the frame in a black and white photo.  The street is visible in this outdoor photo
Ndirangu Wachanga

After Mazrui’s talk, he will be joined by Ndirangu Wachanga, a University of Wisconsin professor of media studies and information science, who is the authorized documentary biographer of Ngũgĩ.  Wachanga will ask questions of Mazrui, and then the audience will be invited to join in the discussion with questions of their own. 

A respected scholar who has received numerous literary awards and honors, Ngũgĩ has published books, plays, memoirs, and several books of essays. One of his best known theoretical works is “Decolonising the Mind” (1986), in which he advocates for writing in African languages. He has taught at the University of Nairobi, Northwestern University, Yale University, New York University, the University of California, Irvine, and others. 

His most recent works published in the U.S. are “Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir” (2018), and a collection of his short stories, “Minutes of Glory and Other Stories” (2019). Among other Ngũgĩ writings are “Weep Not, Child” (1964), the first major novel in English by an East African author; a play “I Will Marry When I Want,” the performance which led to his detention for a year without trial by the Kenyan government; and memoirs “Dreams in a Time of War” (2010), about his childhood along with “Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer’s Awakening” (2016), a chronicle of his years at Makerere University in Uganda.

Mazrui said that Ngũgĩ stands out among other authors in several ways. Ngũgĩ consistently reflects concern with the impoverished, displaced, and disenfranchised, so his body of work “espouses a radical vision anchored in a quest for a more just social and moral order,” Mazrui explained. 

“Among his peers of university-educated African writers,” Mazrui added, “his commitment to the promotion of African languages and their use in creative works has been unmatched.”