Ngugi wa Thiong’o , original name James Thiong’o Ngugi (born January 5, 1938, Limuru, Kenya), East Africa’s leading novelist, whose popular Weep Not, Child (1964) was the first major novel in English by an East African. As he became sensitized to the effects of colonialism in Africa, he adopted his traditional name and wrote in the Bantu language of Kenya’s Kikuyu people.
Ngugi received bachelor’s degrees from Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, in 1963 and from Leeds University, Yorkshire, England, in 1964. After doing graduate work at Leeds, he served as a lecturer in English at University College, Nairobi, Kenya, and as a visiting professor of English at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, U.S. From 1972 to 1977 he was senior lecturer and chairman of the department of literature at the University of Nairobi.
The prizewinning Weep Not, Child is the story of a Kikuyu family drawn into the struggle for Kenyan independence during the state of emergency and the Mau Mau rebellion. A Grain of Wheat (1967), generally held to be artistically more mature, focuses on the many social, moral, and racial issues of the struggle for independence and its aftermath. A third novel, The River Between (1965), which was actually written before the others, tells of lovers kept apart by the conflict between Christianity and traditional ways and beliefs and suggests that efforts to reunite a culturally divided community by means of Western education are doomed to failure. Petals of Blood (1977) deals with social and economic problems in East Africa after independence, particularly the continued exploitation of peasants and workers by foreign business interests and a greedy indigenous bourgeoisie. In a novel written in Kikuyu and English versions, Caitaani Mutharaba-ini (1980; Devil on the Cross), Ngugi presented these ideas in an allegorical form. Written in a manner meant to recall traditional ballad singers, the novel is a partly realistic, partly fantastical account of a meeting between the Devil and various