The current  issue of Granta magazine features an interview with Ngugi Wa Thiongo.

Ellah Allfrey takes the African-language-warrior through his forthcoming memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War. He talks about the phenomenon of the ‘concentration villages’ created by the dislocation of hundred of traditional villages by the colonists. Now, that’s a story I’d like to read.

But Ngugi never veers too far from his pet subject, the African language. Here, in a quote from the interview, he expresses his only reservation against young African writers:

‘I have not (so far  – I may be wrong) seen a young writer of the new generation who takes a positive stand for and on behalf of African languages.’

This is the Ngugi-Wa-Thiongo challenge for young African writers.

Yet, I’d like to throw Ngugi a challenge of his own: an important award in his name for a work of fiction published in a language indigenous to Africa [this should let out English, French, Portuguese…]. The first award could be made in two or three years to give publishers (and writers!) a headstart. African Writing will be glad to support this initiative. Perhaps Granta will too?

Because writers do not write in a vacuum, we need to create the environment to receive these works of fiction that arrive in the languages of the ‘lesser gods’. If any African writer can spearhead such a renaissance of writing in African languages, it is Ngugi Wa Thiongo. But beyond his consistent evangelism, beyond his labour of love in the enrichment of the Gikuyu language, it will have to be with a more strategic, game-changing initiative similar to the African Writing Series, which he briefly edited in the sixties… something like an Ngugi-Wa-Thiongo Prize for African Language Fiction – which could be all the rage, as early as 2012…

& there’s the gauntlet – with a hand in it!

3 Replies to “Ngugi v. Young African Writers”

  1. charlotte broad says:

    I agree that Ngugi wa Thiong’o is the African writer who is challenging the dominant languages, but your challenge to him, given his international fame, is a great idea. Should it be restricted to fiction, I wonder.
    On a personal note, I wonder if anyone out there could give me some help in obtaining permission to publish translations (into Spanish in Mexico) of short stories written by Africans? I am finding it very difficult to get in touch with many of the writers — and of course Heinemann (now Pearson) have washed their hands of it, saying that they do not keep records…

  2. elijah says:

    hie. being an aspiring young writer myself [or maybe am one arleady] i agree with ngugi on writing in one’s language but i wonder whether there is audience 4 stories written in native languages. as a writer u need an audience dont u?

  3. Chuma says:

    @ Charlotte, An Ngugi prize could of course be for all Literature… but his life’s work has been mainly in the sphere of fiction.

    @Elijah, audiences are dynamic and there is reason beyond the commercial for the continuance of African languages. A major prize will do its (small) part to bolster attention and audiences. Other initiatives will be necessary. Every language is another unique spectacle for apprehending life, and native speakers, readers, and WRITERS bring that texture and richness to our human experience. Latin is still read. So should Hausa.


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