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Renowned Kenyan writer and academic to speak

12 July 2005

Renowned Kenyan writer and academic to speak at Victoria

A world-renowned Kenyan novelist and academic who was imprisoned for writing that highlighted the social injustices of his homeland is to speak at Victoria University on Thursday July 14.

Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Director of International Centre for Writing & Translation at the University of California at Irvine, will speak in Lecture Theatre 220 in the University’s Hunter Building on the Kelburn Campus from 4pm.

Born James Ngugi in 1938, Professor Ngugi has lived through Kenya’s independence struggle, banning of some of his work by the Kenyan government, imprisonment in 1978-79, and self-imposed exile, all of which have influenced his rich collection of writings.

One of East Africa’s foremost writers, his topics have included government corruption, socio-economic exploitation, and religious hypocrisy as well as the links of language and culture. His work has been highly influential in the development of postcolonial studies.

Professor Ngugi has continued to write prolifically and to speak around the world at numerous universities and as a distinguished speaker. These appearances include: the 1984 Robb Lectures at Auckland University; the 1996 Clarendon Lecture at Oxford University; and the 1999 Ashby Lecture at Cambridge. He is the recipient of the 2001 Nonino Prize and his books have been translated into more than 30 languages and they continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs, and dissertations.

Since his appointment at UC Irvine, Ngugi has been awarded the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Cabinet. He delivered the Fourth Memorial Steve Biko Lecture in South Africa in September 2003 and was inducted as a foreign honorary member at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Recent distinctions include an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Leeds, and an honorary doctorate in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Transkei.

Dr Diane O’Rourke, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social & Cultural Studies, said Professor Ngugi would speak informally before engaging in a discussion with the audience.

“Professor Ngugi is an exciting writer and speaker. He draws on a wide range of experience—success at the highest levels in academia and publishing; growing up as a member of a large peasant family; the persecution he faced from the Kenyan Government.

“He’s versatile, he writes novels, plays, and non-fiction. And he puts his ideas into practice. He challenges views about the survival of indigenous cultures in the face of neocolonialism and globalisation, arguing that language and culture are inseparable and the decline of an indigenous language inevitably leads to the loss of the culture of which it is a part. To oppose that loss, he switched to writing in Kikuyu. Also, the International Centre for Writing & Translation, which he leads, fosters writing, translation, and criticism in multilingual and international contexts.”

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