Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is outstanding both for the number of books he has written and the enduring quality of his writing. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages and they continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs, and dissertations.
Ngugi’s prolific writing career started in the 1960s, when he wrote his first work, a play titled The Black Hermit. Currently based in the United States, he is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent book, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, was released in In March 2010.
In this interview, Ngugi talks about how he got his first big break, and what inspires him to keep writing. He also tells us when his next book will be coming out.
What was it like to start out as a writer, back when you first began writing?
In the 1960’s there weren’t many publishers interested in African writing. One wrote and sent to publishers mostly based in UK at the time. Heineman’s African Writers Series helped. In my case, the manuscript that became The River Between was initially written for a novel writing competition organised by the East African literature Bureau with monies from Rockfeller Foundation. I won the first prize. Five hundred shillings. In today’s terms that amounts to five dollars.
How would you describe your approach to writing? What motivates you to write?
I want to express myself. I want to tell a story.
Looking back at your prolific writing career, is there any one of your books that stands out for you as your best or most significant?
I love all my books but especially so the novels writen in Gikuyu. So Wizard of the Crow/Murogi wa Kagogo stands out.
There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about you being nominated for the Nobel Literature Prize. Are you surprised that so many people hold you in such high regard, and does this affect how you approach your work?
I am touched. I hope that I can continue producing works worth of their praise.
What in, your opinion, needs to be done to keep African literature thriving?
Writing, publishing and teaching it. The more the merrier.
Much of your work centers on politics and advocating the interests of the exploited and oppressed. In a sense, despite your criticism of post-colonial African rulers, you’ve always seemed to retain a sense of optimism. What’s your take on the continent’s prospects?
My mother used to tell me that even the darkest night ends with dawn. I am inspired by the hurdles and barriers which African peoples have had to overcome to be where they are.
What African writers do you admire, and what book by African authors (other than yours) would you recommend to readers?
The younger generation of African writers is adding so much to the great tradition of African writing.
What makes a good story?
The magic of a story is in the story itself. A good story should make us see magic in the ordinary.
What would be your advice to young upcoming writers?
Write, write, write again and you’ll get it right
Can you talk about any upcoming book projects? We understand the next book in your memoir series is due out soon? What can your fans expect next?
In the House of the Interpreter should come out September 2012.