Sunday, October 15, 2006

spending the day with Ngugi

Oh my, there's more on the Madonna case (the father of the child is saying he originally had not planned to give up his child permanently, but had taken him to the orphanage so he could get better health care. According to the article, when he heard that someone from America wanted to adopt him, he thought the sacrifice would be worth the opportunity for his son. Apparently, initially, he did not know who Madonna was--just that she was a "good Christian lady from America"... (Update 16 Oct 06: Now apparently some private jet has taken off with the child right before the Child right's organization could file for an injunction: this is becoming more and more like a bad movie--an adoption turned kidnapping--and Madonna is getting away with it because she is a rich Western celebrity.)

There's also more on Jos.

But, what I opened this blog to do was to crow a bit about spending the entire day with Ngugi wa Thiong'o today.(Eat your hearts out... {-;) He is in town for almost a week here at the university. I'm good friends with his son Mukoma, who is here in the English PhD programme, and he invited me to go along with them to Milwaukee, where Ngugi had a TV interview and a reading/lecture/book signing. I had met Ngugi three years ago when he came to campus for the Towards an Africa Without Borders Conference that we organized, but at that time I didn't have time (and was a bit too shy) to spend much time with him without being just part of the rest of the crowd. I felt really priviliged to be part of the "entourage" (!) today, along with one of my favourite professors from Languages and Cultures of Asia, who drove us (it was a treat to spend a whole day with him too); Mukoma; his dad; and another one of Mukoma's friends who graduated with a PhD in history from here a few years ago and now has a position on the east coast.

I'll try to write more about it later. It's funny how my thoughts on African writing and language issues have revolved 180 degrees from when I first started thinking about them. 7 or 6 years ago, I was very much in the Achebe camp--(of course that's oversimplifying a bit because Achebe also occasionally writes in Igbo--so it's not really a binary issue)--that African writers should write in English because they will "reach a wider audience." Now, although I certainly don't have a problem with African writers writing in English [indeed, i think some amazing work is currently being written in English: Habila, Adichie, etc.), I also think that Ngugi's passion for writing in Gikuyu and for championing writing and translation in African languages is very important and that literature written in African languages does capture a certain something that English does not. (Of course, as I think about translation issues, I look at writers like Achebe to see how they "translated" thought into English--the use of proverbs etc--as an example of what a translator should do with code-switching, proverbs, etc. in an original language.)

It was really amazing to get to spend time with a literary icon, and not only hear him speak formally about his work, but also get to participate in road-trip car talk and see him in the intimate setting of being a very, very proud father. (Mukoma is definitely following in his father's footsteps, with two books already to his name: Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change (a nonfiction book of political theory) and Hurling Words at Consciousness (poetry.) I've also read and commented on a draft of his novel, which is currently with an agent. And to pretend to be a "real" reviewer for a minute, it is a "remarkable first novel," which I think will recieve much favourable attention once it is published. Ngugi Sr. bragged from the podium about a review that had been written about Mukoma's poetry, quoting it as saying something like "Ngugi Sr. step aside. The new generation has come to take its place" (or something like that.)

Anyway, I need to go to bed, but I'm glad I went. And I'm looking forward to more Ngugi events tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow, I will actually ask if he can autograph my tome-ish (800+ page) Wizard of the Crow and take a photo with me. I'm not sure why I'm so shy about doing that sort of thing. Since yesterday evening, I have taken plenty of pictures of him with other people--but haven't stepped in front of the camera myself.

1 comment:

Texter said...

Yes, my heart is half-eaten... That's wonderful - to spend time with a man who has become an institution.. one of those experiences that you'll savor forever.