Home > Great Texts/Big Questions with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Great Texts/Big Questions with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
14 Jun 2021 - 10:30
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
The final lecture in the ICA's 2021 Great Texts/Big Questions Online Lecture Series will bepresented by esteemed novelist and academic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o! Join us this Thursday 17 June @ 7pm. (Please note change in time; not 6pm as originally advertised)
Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o responds to the theme of this year’s Great Texts/Big Questions Series, Loss upon loss, and its focus on the role and response of artists in the time of Covid-19, with a lecture titled Language and liberation of the African inventive imagination.
One of the most prolific and influential thinkers of our time, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o burst onto the literary scene with the performance of his first major play, The Black Hermit, at the National Theatre in Kampala in 1962. In a highly productive literary period, Ngũgĩ wrote additionally eight short stories, two one act plays, two novels, and a regular column for the Sunday Nation under the title, “As I See It”. The novel Weep Not Child was published to critical acclaim in 1964 followed by a second novel, The River Between (1965). His third, A Grain of Wheat (1967), was a turning point in the formal and ideological direction of his works. His first volume of literary essays, Homecoming, appeared in print in 1969. These were to be followed, in later years, by other volumes including Writers in Politics (1981 and 1997); Decolonising the Mind (1986); Moving the Center (1994); and Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams (1998).
Sharply critical of the inequalities and injustices of Kenyan society, Ngũgĩ was arrested and imprisoned without charge at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison at the end of 1977. His memoir, Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary (1982), is an account of those experiences.
After Amnesty International named Ngũgĩ a Prisoner of Conscience, an international campaign secured his release in December 1978. However, the Moi Dictatorship barred him from jobs at colleges and universities in Kenya. In exile, Ngũgĩ worked with the London based Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya (1982-1998). In 1992 he became Professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at New York University, and from there moved to his present position at the University of California. Ngũgĩ has continued to write prolifically. He is the recipient of numerous honours, including the 2001 Nonino International Prize for Literature, as well as ten Honorary Doctorates.
The event will be facilitated by academic Polo Moji, and the lecture will be followed by a Q&A with online viewers.
Moji joined the Department of English Literary Studies at UCT in 2018, after lecturing French and Francophone Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (2015-2018). Moji is one of the few researchers in South Africa working with both English and French/Francophone literary forms. She has co-edited the special journal issues "Ghostly Border-Crossings: Europe in Afrodiasporic Narratives” in Tydskrif vir letterkunde: A Journal for African Literature (2019), "The Cinematic City: Desire, Form and the African Urban" in The Journal of African Cinemas (2019) and the forthcoming special issue in Cinematic Imaginaries of the African City, Social Dynamics (2021). Her current book project is Gender and the Geopolitics of Blackness in Contemporary AfroFrench Narratives: Black Flâneuses and she is co-organiser of the forthcoming African Feminisms Conference (November 2021).
Theme for the Series
The 2021 Great Texts/Big Questions Lecture Series – Loss upon loss – responds to the complexity of grief and grieving in South Africa and across the continent in the time of Covid-19, with a particular focus on the role and response of artists.
The most critical months of the pandemic have been defined by a near disintegration of cultural and familial rituals for mourning, gathering and coming to terms with death – individually, but especially collectively. A period in which, in so many communities, the deaths of loved ones have followed in such quick succession that there is no ordinary time or proper space to mark their passing. There have been other losses too – jobs, careers, financial security – equally without closure or the promise of resolution. And in the wake of both, a new vocabulary has quickly become part of our everyday speech: Zoom memorials, virtual funerals followed with alarming speed, deep cleaning, lockdowns, social distancing, masks.
The vision for the series draws from the concept of ‘ambiguous loss’ – a term that academic and therapist Pauline Boss coined in the 1970s to name and describe a rupturing of human relationships without closure or clear understanding. Ambiguous loss has since been applied widely across the world in approaching forms of grief that cannot be resolved. In the context of the pandemic, the term provides a possible starting point of collective recognition and reckoning, and opens pathways to healing.
Schedule for the Series
Wed 12 May @ 1pm: Zukiswa Wanner, Creativity in the face of crisis
Wed 19 May @ 1pm: Yewande Omotoso, Death: unfathomable, inevitable
Wed 26 May @ 1pm: Athambile Masola, Grieving: surviving imiphanga through a black aesthetic
Wed 2 June @ 1pm: Lebo Mashile, Crisis catalysing creativity as rituals and as resistance
Wed 9 June @ 1pm: Percy Mabandu, A Call to artistry: Catharsis, and creative grammars against grief
Thursday 17 June @ 7pm (please note change in start time): Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Language and liberation of the African inventive imagination