Which books have been important in your life? And how did you, the son of a peasant, get to write one in the Kenya of the ’60s?

While growing up, we had no books in Gĩkũyũ, my mother tongue. The Bible’s Old Testament became my book of stories. In high school, when I saw a library for the first time, I had the ambition to be able to read all the books in the world. But guess what? I couldn’t even finish reading all the books in that library! Later, in 1959, I went to Makrere University College in Kampala (Uganda) that was part of the University of London. In 1962, at the first conference of African writers coming together on the African continent, called the Makrere Conference of Writers of English Expression, Chinua Achebe looked at my manuscript of Weep Not… and made a few comments. Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart had been published a few years ago. He told his publishers about my book. It was an important moment in my life. George Lammings’s [an important figure in Caribbean literature] work has also been important for me.

Source: ‘My god is more of a god than your god is ungodly – the same applies to languages,’ says writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o | art and culture | Hindustan Times

Devil on the Cross (excerpt)

November 18, 2013

“Literature is the honey of a nation’s soul, preserved for her children to taste forever, a little at a time! Gikuyu said that he who has put something aside never goes hungry. Do you think Gikuyu was a fool when he said that? A nation that has cast away its literature is a nation that has sold its soul and has been left a mere shell.” (Devil on the Cross – Ngugi wa Thiong’o)

Older than Hip Hop

January 6, 2013

Before 16 bars imprisoned words,
before rhymes were as predictable
as a cop’s nightstick upside your head,
my pen positioned itself
in the continuum of black words.

Shaka Zulu and Uhuru
are the main threads of my weave
so there’s no need for me to loom
larger than sacred life.

I’ll leave that to you and you and you
while my words through the needle go
attempting to be part of the quilt
reconnecting the unraveled threads of black life.

I’m not a superstar.
I’m just a star shining alongside my fellow stars.
Together, we illuminate what’s right
and I like it like that.

So you and you and you
can keep on masturbating to finger snaps
while I read Ngugi
trying to decolonize my mind
so that my words can turn into wombs
breeding the fire next time.

Excerpted from my book, Still Living on my Feet


Official languages in Africa Afrikaans Arabic ...

Official languages in Africa Afrikaans Arabic English French Portuguese Spanish Swahili other African languages (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the chapter The Language of African Literature:

[…] African languages refused to die. They would not simply go the way of Latin to become the fossils for linguistic archaeology to dig up, classify, and argue about the international conferences.

These languages, these national heritages of Africa, were kept alive by the peasantry. The peasantry saw no contradiction between speaking their own mother-tongues and belonging to a larger national or continental geography. They saw no necessary antagonistic contradiction between belonging to their immediate nationality, to their multinational state along the Berlin drawn boundaries, and to African as whole.  These people happily spoke Wolof, Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Arabic, Amharic, Kiswahili, Gikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Shona, Ndebele, Kimbundu, Zulu or Lingala without this fact tearing the multinational states apart. During the anti-colonial struggle they showed an unlimited capacity to unite around whatever leader or party best and most consistently articulated an anti-imperialist position. If anything it was the petty-bourgeoisie, particularly the compradors, with their French and English and Portuguese, with their petty rivalries, their ethnic chauvinism, which encouraged these vertical divisions to the point of war at times. No, the peasantry had no complexes about their languages and the cultures they carried!

In fact when the peasantry and the working class were compelled by necessity or history to adopt the language of the master, they Africanised it without any of the respect for its ancestry shown by Senghor and Achebe, so totally as to have created new African languages, like Krio in Sierra Leone or Pidgin in Nigeria that owed their identities to the syntax and rhythms of African languages. All these languages were kept alive in the daily speech, in the ceremonies, in political struggles, above all in the rich store of orature – proverbs, stories, poems and riddles.

For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria:

I’ve started reading this already but have been interrupted by other reading interludes: A Thousand Splendid Suns; Something Torn and New; I, Alex Cross; The Epic of Askia Mohammed; Our Sister Killjoy.  I’ll be discussing some of them in later posts as they do fit the meme.

After reading the above paragraph, I realized someone reading this might think that my detours on the reading path are the result of a disinterest in Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (FRK). Nothing further could be the truth.

The other day after a reading bout with Something Torn and New  by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, I had the thought that he just might transplant Malcolm X as my ideological father. However, I quickly realized it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. As a writer, Ngugi helps me to be centered and connected to what is ultimately most righteous about writing. As an African, Malcolm helped me to be proud. Both help me to be a better human being. But there’s no denying they are both men. As historian Edna Gay said in her introduction to Wives of the Leopard (another book on my list),

“Dahomey seemed a place where women prior to the colonial period had enjoyed extraordinary liberties and powers – an ideal subject for a young woman, like so many others at the time, looking for patterns of female autonomy different from the experience of the West”.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for “patterns of female automony different from…the West” until I started reading about FRK.  All the contradictions black women, in general and conscious black women, in particular, face were experienced by Funmilayo. She responded to these pressures and contradictions by drawing closer to Africa (and African culture) rather than divorcing herself.

I believe that part of her ability to do so was fostered by her parents’ belief in educating girl children. In fact they believed in it so much, they sent her to England to continue her education…even though she was deeply in love with her future husband. While in England, she chose to drop her Christian first name of Frances and be known only by the African Funmilayo. This, at age 19 in 1919. Also at some point in her activist life, she also chose to forgo wearing european clothing.  All this while still remaining a Christian. How was she able to manage what seems to be incompatible identities? What was it about her husband that made him supportive of her goals? Basically what lessons can we glean from her life and doings that would enable us to be healthier and whole instead of fractured and ill.

As I stated at the beginning I haven’t finished the book yet. Therefore I don’t feel qualified to post this like it’s an actual review. These are simply my first impressions. When I finish it, you know I’ll have more Mad Reader thoughts.

“Africans, in the diaspora and on the continent, were soon to be recipients of this linguistic logic of conquest, with two results: linguicide in the case of the diaspora and linguistic famine, or linguifam, on the continent. Linguicide is the linguistic equivalent of genocide. Genocide involves conscious acts of physical massacre; linguicide, conscious acts of language liquidation. Linguicide, writes Skutnabb-Kanga, ‘implies that there are agents involved in causing the death of languages.’ ”

Dismembering Practices: Planting European Memory in Africa

Something Torn and New

Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong’o