Kenya’s foremost writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o is among 14 contenders for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Worth £60,000 to the winner, the prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language.
Ngugi is the only African writer in the list of nominees, who include Nobel winner V.S. Naipaul. The nomination alone is enough proof that Ngugi’s works are rated among the world’s best.
Other nominees for the prize are Peter Carey (Australia), Evan S. Connell (USA)
Mahasweta Devi (India), E.L. Doctorow (USA) , James Kelman (UK), Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru), Arnošt Lustig (Czechoslovakia), Alice Munro (Canada), Joyce Carol Oates (USA), Antonio Tabucchi (Italy), Dubravka Ugresic (Croatia) and Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russia).
This is the third edition of the prize, which was won, in 2005, by Albanian Writer Ismail Kadare, and Nigerian Chinua Achebe, in 2007.
“By honouring Achebe they have redressed what is seen in Africa – and beyond – as the acute injustice that he has never received the Nobel prize, allegedly because he has spent his life struggling to break the grip of western stereotypes of Africa,” said the Guardian in 2007.
The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel; there are no submissions from publishers.
Ngugi, whose writing career started 45 years ago decided to stop writing in English when he was detained without trial in 1977. He henceforth decided that would write in Gikuyu. He wrote his latest book Wizard of the Crow (Murogi wa Kagogo) in Gikuyu and later translated it in English.
The book takes a critical look at the often hypocritical relationship between Africa and donor countries. The book appears to suggest that donor funds are actually the main contributors to corruption and dictatorship in Africa, thereby fuelling underdevelopment in the continent.
His other book The River Between is currently a literature set book studied by secondary school students in the country. Ngugi is also a renowned essayist, with Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of language in African Literature and Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedom, receiving international acclaim.
Ngugi was born on 5 January, 1938 in Limuru. He attended Makerere University in Uganda and Leeds University in the UK.
During his tenure as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Ngugi was at the center of the politics of English departments in Africa, championing the change of name from English to simply Literature to reflect world literature with African and third world literatures at the center.
The performance of I Will Marry When I Want, a play written with the late Ngugi Wa Mirii, at Kamirithu in Limuru landed him at the Kamiti Maximum prison without trial.
After his release in 1982, he fled to exile, first in Britain and then to the US and only returned to Kenya in 2004. On his return him and his wife Njeeri were attacked by gunmen at their hotel in Nairobi.
In 1992 he became a professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at New York University, where he held the Erich Maria Remarque Chair. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature as well as the Director of the International Centre for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.
The winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize will be announced in May 2009, and the winner will be presented with their award at a ceremony in Dublin on 25 June 2009.