When he was selected as a top contender of this year’s Nobel Literature Prize a few days ago, Kenya’s most celebrated novelist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o received loads of congratulatory messages from his fans, especially Kenyans who were optimistic that he would clinch the coveted award this time round.
But as fate would have it, their excitement was short-lived as the Swedish Academy Nobel Foundation decided to award the 2017 Nobel Literature Prize to the British writer Kazuo Ishiguro on Thursday.
The announcement came as a shock to millions of Kenyans who had waited with bated breath to celebrate Ngugi’s victory given that this was his seventh consecutive nomination for the prestigious award since 2010.
A panel of 18 has subverted the will of the people who wanted Ngugi wa Thiong’o. We shall revisit! https://t.co/nN5U8gHRl4
— Larry Madowo (@LarryMadowo) October 5, 2017
“Africa needs back its economy, its politics, its culture, its languages and all its patriotic writers” ~ Ngugi wa Thiong’o
— Mzilikazi wa Afrika (@IamMzilikazi) October 6, 2017
Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, one of the world’s literary giants, has again been BLACKED OUT by @NobelPrize.
— Prof Makau Mutua (@makaumutua) October 5, 2017
The 79-year-old Kenyan writer was selected from a pool of 350 contestants who had been short-listed by a team of literature experts and former Nobel laureates from around the world.
The Race Card
Some people have criticized the academy, arguing that Ngugi, an award-winning novelist, may have been denied the Nobel Prize simply because of his race.
The last African writer to win the literary prize was the Nigerian novelist Professor Wole Soyinka in 1986, while American author Tonni Morrison was the last black writer to win in 1993.
We shall live to fight for it another day Ngugi wa Thiong’o,,,you are a hero, Racism rules the the western continent
— KEN GANKERS 🔵 (@ken_gankers) October 6, 2017
The Nobel Committee just will not honor Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. It’s an injustice. #NobelPrize2017 #literature #NgugiWaThiongo #writers #books
— MPC Creative Writing (@MPCWriting) October 5, 2017
Last year, the academy was severely criticized for its decision to give the American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan the award, with some critics terming his literary work as “anti-literature”.
It took the singer two weeks to acknowledge his win and he didn’t even attend the award ceremony.
Writer and Civil Rights Crusader
Ngugi, whose writing career dates back to the 1960s, has written many award-winning novels, plays, short stories and essays including the “Wizard of the Crow”, “Weep Not, Child”, and “The River Between”.
However, most of his work has been rather controversial, with some of it even earning him jail time in Kenya. One of his first plays “Ngaahika Ndeenda”, a native Kenyan word for “I Will Marry When I Want”, which was created in 1977, was banned by the then Kenyan government because of its thought-provoking plot, which authorities saw as a threat to the status quo.
After more than a year of detention at Kamiti Maximum Prison, Ngugi fled to the United States with his family in 1978.
His return to Kenya more than two decades later, as part of a month-long tour of East Africa, was abruptly cut short after robbers broke into his apartment in Nairobi and assaulted him and his wife before fleeing with valuable items.
In the U.S., Ngugi has been teaching literature at various universities, including Yale University, New York University, and the University of California.