Kenyan Author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o Talks to Fictions of Empire Class
On October 26, 2015, students in FSSY 173 (Fictions of Empire) had a Skype conversation with the renowned Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o during Fourth Hour. Thiong’o is currently a Distinguished Professor in Comparative Literature and English at the School of Humanities at
University of California, Irvine. In FSSY 173, taught by Dr. Suhaan Mehta, students read Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat
(1967), a novel in which a nation on the cusp of independence is haunted by events of the past, particularly when the colonial government had declared a state of emergency. Thiong’o explores how the colonized peoples drew on various religious and historical events and figures in their anti-colonial resistance. The British colonial occupation didn’t merely lead to the loss of sovereignty but also ruptured the social fabric of Kenyans.
Besides commenting specifically on A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi wa Thiong’o graciously answered questions on themes of language, exile, and home. He spoke passionately about the value of both knowing one’s first language and acquiring other languages. He distinguished “internal exile” as a condition in which one is a prisoner at home from “external exile” whereby one is forced to live abroad. Being away from Kenya for most of his adult life, he said that home is now an imagined space. At the end of the lively session, he urged students to use their education to develop meaningful connections and not lead atomized lives.