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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was born in 1938 in Kenya. Growing up, he witnessed “numerous atrocities committed by the white settler regime,” a regime that perceived itself as “natural, rational, laudable, God’s goodness manifest.” Ngũgĩ “grew up in a race-structured society where white was wealth, power, and privilege and black was poverty, impotence, and burden, where white was indolence and black was diligence, a society where whites harvested what blacks planted. This dichotomy gave me a frame through which I saw the world.”

Encouraged by his mother—his “anchor”—to get an education, to do his best, and to venture into the world after graduating from high school, Ngũgĩ enrolled in Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. There, students had to take an oath to seek the truth, an oath that repeatedly vibrated in his mind as he began to write dramas, a manuscript for a novel, and articles for a local newspaper.

As “winds of change” swept through Kenya, Uganda, and other East African nations, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o struggled to come to terms with the scars of colonialism and to develop a broader worldview based on what he had experienced and on the new reality unfolding around him. In 1959, he had entered university as a subject of a British Crown colony, and when he graduated in 1964, he was a citizen of an independent African state.

In this chronicle of a writer’s awakening, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o—now a 79-year-old accomplished novelist who has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and who was at one time imprisoned and exiled because of his work—reveals the price writers have paid for seeking truth in a hostile political climate. (The New Press)

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