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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Profile: Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Penguin book cover of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's book Petals of Blood
Ngugi wa Thiong'o now writes only in Kikuyu or Swahili
Acclaimed Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o, attacked by armed robbers during a visit home after 22 years in exile, has been a controversial figure in Kenya for the past quarter of a century.

As a writer, playwright, journalist and lecturer he has been widely regarded as East Africa's most influential writer.

His criticism of colonial rule, Christianity and post colonial abuses earned him as much admiration from the public as trouble from Kenya's authorities.

Ngugi, as he is usually known, belongs to Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyus.

In the late 1970s, he announced that he would not write in English anymore, to concentrate on writing books in Kikuyu or Swahili only.

He was born James Ngugi in 1938 in British-ruled Kenya, attended a mission-run school and first became a devout Christian.

He later rejected Christianity and changed his original name in 1976 from James Ngugi, which he regarded as a sign of colonial influence, to Ngugi wa Thiong'o.


Ngugi's decision to write in Kikuyu, together with his criticisms of both British and Kenyan rule, have posed threats to his security. In 1976 Ngugi got involved in running a local theatre group.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Ngugi wa Thiong'o: Kenyan tour postponed after his mugging
At the end of December 1977 Daniel arap Moi, then vice-president, ordered Ngugi detained in Mamiti Maximum Security Prison.

The arrest followed the publication of a play he had co-written and that carried a strong political message, Ngaahika Ndeenda (I will Marry You when I want).

Ngugi was imprisoned under Public Security Act for a year without trial. After his release Ngugi did not recover his professorship at the University of Nairobi.

When his theatre group was banned by Kenyan officials in 1982, Ngugi then left his country for a self-imposed exile in London.

In 1992 Ngugi became professor of comparative literature and performance studies at New York University. He vowed not to return until President Moi stepped down, which he did 18 months ago.

His most famous novels are Weep Not Child (1964), The River Between (1965) the Grain of Wheat (1967) and Petals of Blood (1977).

Just two weeks ago, Ngugi ended his 22-year self-imposed exile and returned to Kenya where he was greeted by a crowd of thousands.

"I have come back with an open mind, an open heart and open arms. I have come to touch base. I have come to learn," he declared, adding that he owes his return to the collective struggle of the Kenyan people.

Thiong'o is in Kenya for just a month, during which he was conducting a countywide tour financed by the East African Publishing House, giving lectures and launching his latest novel in Kikuyu, Muroogi wa Kigogo, which he has worked on for five years.

Since he was attacked by armed gunmen on 11 August, his publishers have announced the suspension of his tour.

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