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A Ngugi Nobel would really do us proud: Chakava

Henry Chakava, the man who almost lost his finger for sticking out his neck for Ngugi wa Thiong’o, purrs with pride at the prospect of his star writer winning the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. “I feel very proud,” says Chakava the Chairman of East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), who are Ngugi’s Kenyan publishers. “It is not everyday that someone gets to win the Nobel, least of all an African.” If Ngugi wins, Chakava says that it will be a recognition of a long and deserved struggle for Ngugi: “It will be a crowning achievement for a person who has written consistently from the sixties to this moment,” says Chakava who persisted in publishing Ngugi even when it was patently clear that his controversial ideas had made him public enemy number one for the Kenyan government. It is this stubbornness that led to thugs attacking him outside his residence. The message was clear he had to stop publishing Ngugi or else… Chakava alludes to this in his book Publishing in Africa: One Man’s Perspective, in a chapter titled Publishing Ngugi: The Challenge, the Risk and the Reward; “There have been many threats, direct or indirect, that I or my company has suffered because of the association with Ngugi… It is not for me to tell you how Ngugi himself has suffered, but it has obviously been on a much larger scale; and it is that suffering that still keeps him in exile today.” The book was published in 1996. He adds: “In the years 1977 to 1982 – before and after Ngugi’s detention – we spent much time together,” Chakava writes. “The University of Nairobi administration had refused to allow him to resume his teaching duties, so I gave him a desk at my office, where he could do his writing.” He adds: “In spite of the problems I have been through, my association with Ngugi has been very rewarding, both intellectually and commercially. I must admit that my linkage with Ngugi in particular, has played an important part in establishing and enhancing my reputation and that of EAEP as the leading fiction publisher in the region.” Chakava explains that Ngugi is a writer who is not afraid to take risks. He recall one such moment when Ngugi decided to drop his Christian name James to start using Ngugi wa Thiong’o. “Our bosses then at Heinemann UK were alarmed at the decision, they asked if it was possible to use James Ngugi in brackets but Ngugi flatly refused,” says Chakava. He adds that if Ngugi wins the Nobel it would lift the morale of EAEP and help motivate young writers. “We will definitely reissue all his books,” he says. “He will clearly now be an international figure and it will be easier for us to promote him.”