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I have no ambivalences in relation to my Kenyaness.   If my understanding

of the social realities is wrong, my Diaspora experiences are not the culprit—

we are wrong for many reasons most of them having little to do with the

location one writes from.   By the same token, proximity may not make one’s

analysis more correct.  I think this line of literary criticism exhausts itself quickly.

Mukoma wa Ngugi (left) with his father and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o



Books by Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Hurling Words at Consciousness / Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change

Books on Rebellion in Kenya

Histories of the Hanged  / Imperial Reckoning

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Mukoma wa Ngugi

 A Glimpse into African Consciousness

Mukoma wa Ngugi a poet, essayist and novelist.Writer considers blind afro-optimism as dangerous as afro-pessimism. Mukoma wa Ngugi has written a lot of poetry including a collection titled Hurling Words at Consciousness, and essays for different publications. The essays can be found in publications such as BBC Focus On Africa Magazine where he is a columnist and Nairobi's Business Daily newspaper.

Last year, the writer who has been living in the US, took a different direction with the release of Nairobi Heat published by Penguin. Even before readers in some African countries like Kenya get a chance to buy copies from home bookshops, the detective novel has been highly debated elsewhere. It’s a story that explores race issues, justice and identity. At another level, his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition, has been picked to compete for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing.

To understand the forces that have shaped this politically conscious writer, Africa Review organised an interview. Here, Mukoma wa Ngugi who is the son Kenyan’s literary icon Ngugi wa Thiong'o speaks his mind, freely.—Mwenda wa Micheni


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Africa Review: What compelled you to write Nairobi Heat?

Mukoma wa Ngugi: The story, at least the seed of it, found me.  I came home late one night and found a white woman, dressed in a cheer-leader outfit passed outside my door.  I did not know her; she must have been at a party or on her way there.  I called the police for an ambulance and the policeman who accompanied it was African-American.  They promptly took her away but that set-up stayed with me and it eventually morphed into the novel—where in Madison Wisconsin, an African American detective is investigating the murder of a white woman and his main suspect is an African.  From my end, I did the best I could with the story, but as to whether I achieved what I set out to do very much depends on the reader.  If the reader’s imagination is excited by the novel, then yes.

Africa Review: It’s been described as stereotypical and largely (mis)informed by your Diaspora experiences; a story removed from the Nairobi realities that the book attempts to depict. Was this deliberate?

Mukoma wa Ngugi: There are two things here.  The first is that we have to distinguish between the author, the authorial voice (which in my view pretty much functions like a character interacting with the reader) and the world view of the characters. 

Ishmael’s view of Africa, the Diaspora, US racial and class dynamics are vastly different from mine. Ishmael is coming to Nairobi/Africa as an African-American. He is conscious that he views Africa in an ambivalent way. So throughout the novel he fights for his own understanding of Africa and his relationship to Africans, and indeed to his own blackness and American identity.  He is constantly re-evaluating himself.

I on the other hand was born in Evanston, Illinois to Kenyan parents but we left when I was a few months old.  I grew up in Kenya so I am traveling in the opposite direction in relation to Ishmael. My relationship to the US is as complex as his is to Kenya. 

But I have no ambivalences in relation to my Kenyaness.   If my understanding of the social realities is wrong, my Diaspora experiences are not the culprit—we are wrong for many reasons most of them having little to do with the location one writes from.   By the same token, proximity may not make one’s analysis more correct.  I think this line of literary criticism exhausts itself quickly.

The second thing, and to me this is more serious, is that Afro-Pessimism is being replaced with unquestioning Afro-optimism.   Afro-pessimism (best exemplified by the 2000 Economist Africa Cover Story titled—The hopeless continent) keeps the positive coming out Africa out of view.  So there was a concerted effort to also talk about the positive things coming from the continent. But now accusations of Afro-pessimism are being used to silence constructive-criticism.  There is pressure for the writers to create a happy cover story for Africa especially when in conversation with Westerners. 

Both Afro-pessimism and unquestioning Afro-optimism are terrible trappings because we end up in a situation where we cannot have honest re-evaluations and dialogue.  And without honest critical dialogue there can be no basis for positive change.  I for one will not be part of the Africa-hakuna-matata-tourist-attracting writing crew.

Africa Review: It was launched in South Africa by Penguin. Does this mean you have no faith in Kenyan publishers and the Kenyan book market? Why so and what must be done to improve publishing in this part of the world?

Mukoma wa Ngugi: I have a lot of faith in Kenyan publishers (East African Educational  Publishers and Story Moja in particular) and independent African Publishers such as the Cassava Republic Press, Kwela Books and Farafina.  In fact both EAEP and Cassava were interested in publishing Nairobi Heat but we had signed over the Africa rights to Penguin.

To improve publishing means an overhaul of the whole publishing system—the writer, the reader, the publisher, and the education ministries each have their own role to play. For now it looks like traditional publishers are mainly interested in producing textbooks and I think this has stifled creative works. Independent African publishers are producing creative works but they need readers in order for them to thrive as a business.

We need more literary journals and literary prizes for primary, high school and university writing.  We need regional magazines and regional prizes. In other words we need to have a literary system that makes it possible for a child in Kangemi to become a writer— we need to create the steps between dreaming to reality, a paved literary road that nurtures writing talent from childhood into adulthood.

Africa Review: The last time you were in Nairobi, you hinted at lack of serious literary agents and publishers in Africa. How has this affected the quality of African writing and portrayal of Africa in the literary world?

 Mukoma wa Ngugi: Well, a good number of us are working with Western literary agents who are familiar mostly with Western publishers. This in turn means that they are likely to represent books that will be assured a Western audience.  This means that there are good books that have Africans as their primary audience that are not being published.  But in the absence of viable publishing in most African countries, even African literary agents would have a problem. 

I think this is why we have to support independent initiatives such as Cassava Republic Press that has taken its mantra of “feeding the African imagination” very seriously.

Africa Review: You also went into the responsibilities of publishers (Story Moja festival 2009) operating in Africa as corporate citizens to authors and the community. Talk freely about this.

Mukoma wa Ngugi: Well, if you consider the amount of money generated by publishers such as Heinemann and how little they have given back, you cannot but help think they  are just as exploitative as the next Western corporation.  Surely, Heinemann should have set up a Chinua Achebe first book prize by now.  It should have set up a writer’s foundation that caters to younger writers even if only in the self-interest of having future writers to exploit.  Now, the argument is that like any other business, publishers have to make money in order to stay afloat. 

But I think there is also a moral responsibility, a duty even to give back when money is being made out of the talents of the dispossessed.   I mean without nurturing future generations of readers and literary critics, how else will African literatures grow?  Let us not forget that Africa is an immense continent with a population estimate of 800 million—yet how many young writers can one name?  We are in the hundreds but in reality we should be in the thousands.  We have a huge problem and the corporate publishing industry has a huge role to play in the solution.  As I said, every entity involved in the writing industry, from writers to publishers have a role to play.

Africa Review: Most of the Literature coming out of Africa, especially published by the big name today, is by young writers (The Caine Prize generation) in the Diaspora. Their take on Africa cannot be the same as Chinua Achebe’s and the earlier generation of writers then based in Africa and writing mostly for Africans, not for Caine Prizes. In your view, is this a good thing? Why?

Mukoma wa Ngugi: Each generation of writers builds on the literature that is there, and has been there before it. This generation then takes that literature and lets it grow in different directions.  This is how we end up with a literary tradition, the constantly new growing on the backs of yesterday’s innovations.  If you want to understand the continuities and differences between my generation and that of Chinua Achebe, think about Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel

In Things Fall Apart, that which eventually nationalists will fight for is very clear—Igbo culture is well defined, and even though in English that the characters are speaking in Igbo.  What is at stake as the colonising culture meets African culture, and who the enemy is, and what must be done are understood rightly or wrongly, as being very clear.  Hence Okwonkwo can be categorical, he can refuse to bend and consequently, to bring in King Lear, he breaks. 

In Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel, what ails Nigeria is not so clear—the enemy is not as clearly defined, cultural lines not so demarcated.  The characters are in state of melancholy, they really can’t articulate what ails them.  Yes, its neo-colonialism but how do you talk about an enemy twice removed and represented by a black face installed by misguided nationalism? 

And in terms of culture, what is there to recover when our generation has never really experienced that culture? As an entity outside the colonial encounter?

So Habila’s novel cannot be realist and linear like Things Fall Apart —it is fractured.  And in order to try to make sense out of this reality, the novel has to have multiple narrators.  It is in my opinion Waiting for an Angel is the novel from my generation of writers that captures what it meant to grow up in the lazy, destructive, and stomach only dictatorships of the 1980’s and 1990’s.  These were the dictatorships led by the greedy elite that Frantz Fanon termed as “good for nothing” in Wretched of the Earth. They have contributed nothing—not better roads, hospitals, universities, schools, or national industries.  They have been good for nothing.

Africa Review: The rich African Idioms, wise philosophies and social systems have been out of the picture especially in what is fashioned as contemporary African writing, music, dance, literature even poetry and theatre. Where do you see this moving to in future and is it a good thing especially in the context of societies and cultural identities?

Mukoma wa Ngugi: I think we need to talk seriously about African philosophy—let’s debate the Ezes, Wiredus and Houtondjis.  This is where the struggle for the African minds is taking place.  I also think that sooner or later my generation of writers will have to seriously deal with the language question.  For now we are holding it at bay.  But sooner or later we will have to contend with T.S. Elliot’s maxim that a writer’s first responsibility is to his or her own language.

Africa Review: There are many art/culture projects around the continent that are driven by foreign funding. In your opinion, how is this shaping future African realities? Is this a good thing or should Africa go back to the drawing board?

Mukoma wa Ngugi: This is a huge problem.  National cultures cannot be undergirded by  foreign funding.  The problem with the African elite is that they have no sense of culture and no ambition beyond the stomach.  Western capitalists understood that a nation with culture makes better business decisions—the Rockefellers and Carnegies.  A nation with a sense of culture has a sense of what it is worth.  It can take pride in what is locally manufactured and at same time be weary of outside exploitation.  Interestingly enough, the US went into depression when its capitalists abandoned national capitalism for global capitalism, when immediate profit took the place for long-term investment within the country in not just industry but also in the arts.

The African elite, and they are the ones with the money have no notion of legacy building, or being remembered through endowments—it’s the politics of the stomach, of immediate money-making and spending, usually abroad.  Consider that some African governments are selling or leasing land to foreign governments for growing cash crops.  What could be more cynical than this?  Instead of having African farmers growing what those countries need for sale, our governments are cutting out the farmers all together. How then can the elites at the helm of such governments be expected to be thinking about the arts and culture?

With that said, I think those in the writing industry, from independent publishers to the writers lucky enough to make a living out of their work (or a semblance of it); we have a duty to insurgency.  We need to pool our resources no matter how meager and underwrite some of our own adventures.  I would like to see a conference that brings my generation of writers in dialogue with my father’s generation—but surely such a meeting cannot be primarily sourced by foreign funding.

Source: Africa Review

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Hurling Words at Consciousness

By Mukoma wa Ngugi

By turns soothingly tender or implacably harsh, Hurling Words at Consciousness is an unflinching meditation on our globalized inequities. It is thoughtful and richly rewarding.—Tejumola Olaniyan, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Like his late mentors, Frantz Fanon and Walter Rodney, Mukoma is a catalyst, a circuit board, a generator. Through his writings and activism, he expresses the idea within which many will think change, the dream within which many will envision change, and the hope within which many will imagine change.—Meredith Terreta, LeMoyne College

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Kenya—A Love Letter

Inside looking out, snow is falling and I am thinking
how happy we once were, when promises and dreams
came easy and how when we, lovers covered only

by a warm Eldoret night, you waved a prophecy
at a shooting star and said, "when the time comes
we shall name our first child, Kenya" and how I

laughed and said "yes our child then shall be country
and human" and we held hands, rough and toughened
by shelling castor seeds. My dear, when did our

clasped hands become heavy chains and anchors holding
us to the mines and diamond and oil fields? Our hands
calloused by love and play, these same hands—when

did they learn to grip a machete or a gun to spit hate?
And this earth that drinks our blood like a hungry child
this earth that we have scorched to cinders—when we

are done eating it, how much of it will be left for Kenya?
My dear, our child is born, is dying. Tomorrow the child
will be dead.

January 4, 2007

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A Poem for Arthur Notje

Your forehead jutting outwards swelling with the wretchedness

of inheritance, watching your trail of black dust, ashes

of a cremated past swirl and twirl, a dance with voiceless ghosts

that see through the film of your eyes. Your eyes frozen deep

in the monotony of the past holding a black and white

photograph of a stillborn baby's wail.

Your nails thrust deep into the palm of your right hand until

it explodes like a grenade reading blood will flood the River

Nile, your reflection lies face down in Thames River, I see

a corpse in an Ocean sized fitting room. Consult neither

the Yoruba gods nor oracles, what you need is an internal shift

of perception, find beauty sufficient enough to thaw feeling.

Once you found beauty and said a true word, one true word spills

its truth at seams, swells beehives until the honey trickles

down to oasis. You said, lift up the cup gently to your scorched

lips and drink lest you spill. The warm sun light seductively

filters through the BaoBab branches onto my hungry skin, oval slits

of light swaying with the wind that moves the palm shaped leaves.

Is there a true word so terrible to face? That creates such

anguish? Only in its absence, the vagueness of an articulated

absence that churns ghosts, births easy theories of dualism and

memory of a childhood that dreamt what it cannot now fulfill leaving a

solitary poet staring into the abyss with nothing in front or behind,

the sole saxophonist in the middle of Oxford Square playing long

after the mourners have left. It once was beautiful. Wearing your martyr's

cap, you sat too long defenseless, the lone aeolian harp battling a screaming

wind that has upon itself the role of redeeming the world. Thames River

cannot not mummify as winter is not here. City lights flicker industrialization

onto the river's glass, your face distorted by the city's disco lights, two dark

eyes peering into the display of orgy that dances before them.

Every day the world ends with our eyes glued on the next shipment

of happiness. Nightmares of land mines, sequestered Palestinians

and Zulus who no longer believe in either the pointed tip of Shaka's

assegai nor in the poet's pen. Let it hurtle along at the pace of my mind,

Bao-Bab fiend sprout a branch, trip a thought, middle of inferno,

take a plunge into the fire next time of a mind through which the world

whistles tunes of its madness. Shoot a straight arrow into the sky, create

wavy parallels, dance opposites in its wake, I see your face actualizing

the possibility of life, the fact of death. The Police records show your

fingerprints on a beer bottle, a witness who watching the orgy of depression

asked you to dance,"I have to leave, I am almost late, but thanks", he said.

"Another time then?" she asked. "Maybe, but not here." She watched your

black coat that hid your back till it was swallowed by the dancing bodies,

one slice of darkness and the you spilled onto Wordsworth Street.

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Letter to My Nephew

for Ken Saro-Wiwa

The sun is locked in evening, half shadow

half light, hills spread like hunchbacks over

plains, branches bowing to birth of night.

It's an almost endless walk until the earth

opens up to a basin of water. You gasp

even the thin hairs on your forearm breathe,

flowers wild, two graves of man and wife

lying in perfect symmetry, overrun by wild

strawberries. Gently you part the reeds,

water claims the heat from the earth, you

soak your feet, then lie down hands planted

into the moist earth. You glow. Late at night

when you leave, you will fill your pockets

with wet clay. But many years from now,

you will try to find a perfect peace in many

different landscapes, drill water out of memory

to heal wounded limbs of the earth. You

will watch as machines turn your pond

inside out, spit the two graves inside out

in search of sleek wealth. Many years

later, after much blood has been lost and your

pond drained of all life you will wonder, shortly

before you become the earth's martyr, what

is this thing that kills not just life but even death?

Source: MadPoetry


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Nairobi Heat

By Mukoma wa Ngugi

The best thing about this book is the voice of its narrator—a sort of old-fashioned detective-movie voice, a little jaded by experience, but with a heart of gold and a touch of sweetness hidden deep inside. We see not only Africa, but also the US through his eyes. The second best thing about the book is the way the story (solving the murder) is so intertwined with the culture the detective encounters in Africa. One cannot be teased apart from the other. This is a murder that could not have happened, would not have happened in any other way, in any other place. The culture shock is acute—and important, as our protagonist, a black American detective, searches not only for a killer, but also for his own social equilibrium in a world where he's suddenly a part of the majority—but also a foreigner. I have to say I really, really enjoyed this book--and I would recommend it to anybody who likes not only a good page-turning mystery, but also a journey outside his N. American comfort zone. I'd also like to see more from this author. . . .

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Conversing with Africa. Politics of Change

By Mukoma wa Ngugi

The very title of Kenyan author Mukoma wa Ngugi's book makes the case for dialogue. Conversing with Africa is a wide-ranging investigation of Africa's dilemmas and his analysis is bleak; abject poverty, despotism, coups, ethnic cleansings all under the rubric of neo-colonialism, all structured under the debilitating conditions of the World Bank and the IMF continue to ravage the continent. Ngugi's aim is polemical and he has approached his task in the spirit of Walter Rodney's groundbreaking How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. His aim is to convince the reader of the imperative need for action; for Africans to become their own agents of change. Conversing with Africa is a plea for unity; Ngugi is proposing nothing less than a Pan-African solution to the ills of the continent and although his argument is stronger on passion than pragmatism, he could justifiably point to what pragmatism has produced.

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Mukoma Speaks

American Ignorance (Arrogance)

There is a lot of what I would call willful American ignorance. American nationalism cannot exist if at some point the American citizen did not consciously decide not to look at the rest of the world. The belief in being the most civilized, most democratic and consequently most able to civilize the world cannot exist if the American citizen sees the full humanity of the African or Arab for that matter. Therefore this ignorance is part and parcel of American nationalism and this is why for me it is also very dangerous. I fully understand Binyavanga's frustration. Here is a most remarkable book, one that ironically deals with the European's inability to fully see Africa and what colonialism was creating and the consequences for both the African and the European, and the students cannot see it. In fact they do not want see it. I also quite agree with Binyavanga's response “if you do not know where Sudan is, I am not going to tell you find out where it is for yourself. For how else can real debate begin? I mean, if every discussion has to begin with where a certain country is located, or that Africa has cities, there are airplanes, Africans do live in trees etc., how do we get the real questions of the day that are plaguing humanity? How do we get to the question of how America is oiled by Iraqi or Nigerian resources for example?

So I think it is important to understand that these kind of questions, which come across as ignorant or arrogant actually have a function to play in American nationalism putting Africa in its place, blinding the American to US complicity and responsibility while at the same time reassuring the American that the mission to civilize and democratize is needed and noble. . . .

Afrcanist vs. African Scholars: Foreigners & Elites

The book,
Conversing with Africa. Politics of Change was my attempt to try and contextualize contemporary Africa in the tradition of radical politics. The framework I use is Pan-African. In the book I look at the role of the Africanist and African scholar. There is a fascinating discussion that brews under the radar in academia. That is the Africanist scholar (mostly white and American) and the African scholar (African and elite) do not get along because they are in competition of who speaks for Africa . The irony of course is that they both, even as they pretend to speak for the continent long abandoned it. But juxtaposed to these kinds of intellectuals are others who have seen their role in more political terms Fanon for the African intellectual and Basil Davidson for the Africanist.

I also look at the failure of the so called second winds of democracy. Africa's poverty since the 1990's has been worsening. What is happening in the Niger Delta easily serves as a metaphor of what is happening in the rest of the continent. Resources are being plundered; the fledgling democracies lack the imagination or political will to bring relief to their societies, and we see a fattening local elite and corporations without shame. Steve Biko when asked what kind of political and economic arrangement he saw in a future South Africa said it would have to be socialist in nature; it would have to be redistributive. This was a result of the savage inequalities that exist in South Africa. Well, the same vicious inequalities exist in most of the continent and piling the name democracy without democratic acts will not alleviate them. Elsewhere I have called for Democracies with content of economic, social, and political equality. A democracy that does not aspire to such content, that has already accepted inequality as part of humanity will not work. . . .

Pan-Africanists and African Writers

African writers have been, I think the single most important, facilitators of Pan-Africanism. People like Dubois and Nkrumah might have provided the theory, but it is the writers that humanize Africans to each other. We see each other through their works. Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Soyinka's Kongi's Harvest were staples when I was growing up. When I meet a West African, the first thing more often than not he or she will say they have read Ngugi's River Between or A Grain of Wheat. When Ngugi was detained, writers like Soyinka agitated on his behalf. Whether as a result of a common tapestry woven by colonialism, our dictators or that thing we call African solidarity, the intersections have always been there and they have been quite strong. . . .

In terms of setting a standard, I immediately think of Ben Okri. The Famished Road for me remains, one of the best novels I have read. I use standard here to mean writing something that is uniquely yours. Certainly the style of magical realism/surrealism has been used before by writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But only Ben Okri could have written The Famished Road, nothing like it existed before. It's his contribution. This is an odd claim to make some think of Soyinka's The Interpreters. The Interpreters is a fine book, a novel I am in envy of, yet my feeling is that it is not uniquely Soyinka's. It could have been written by someone else. That it could have just as easily been written by someone else doesn't mean someone else could have, or it would have been easy, but it does not set a standard of ambition to me as a writer.

Ben Okri's Dangerous Love, is also a fine a novel as they come. The title is unfortunate; I think that in part has to do with why it receives so little attention, but it remains one of my favorite books where else can you find lovers taking serious romantic walks along the polluted highways of Lagos? . . .

Generational Shifts & African Languages

If the older generation of writers made Africans visible to each other, they did not have shared projects that made the intersections real. The Whispering Grove Anthology continues this tradition and at the same time concretizes it. We also need to have African writer conferences on the continent and may I nominate Nigeria? We need more African literary journals and prizes. We need translations between and into African languages. Things Fall Apart should exist in Gikuyu for example. I understand that there is a thriving Hausa literature; it needs to be translated into other African languages. We should not always need the medium of English and French to talk to each other. Our generation of writers should, as far as we can, professionalize writing. African writers should not have to win a European or American literary prize before we recognize them as writers. Our intellectuals should not have to publish in Western publications before we take them seriously. We have to become our own best audiences, critics, translators, publishers and writers. . . .

Borders and Leaders with Dirty Linen

African writers have to be willing to discuss their differences and therefore it is not so much a question of a common message. The discussion of differences will in the long run prove to be more useful especially in our day and age where we already accept that there is a mass called Africa. The three writers at Ohio University present an interesting case. You have Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt, a country that develops identity issues when it comes to Africa. You have Kofi Awoonor from Ghana, a country that is still reeling from Nkrumah's internal politics that toward the end of his rule alienated Ghanaians. And even though he corrected it later, his call for political independence first followed by economic independence was a clear misreading of the neocolonial forces that eventually led to his ouster. And of course Chenjerai Hove, who, and we should not doubt him, says he is in political exile from Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a Pan-African challenge. Can we really try and craft a united message when Zimbabwe is in ruins? If Mugabe is not good for Zimbabwe, can he be good for the continent? Why should, and to me this is the idiocy of leadership, one person feels that only he has the ability to lead a country of millions? So there are all sorts of interesting questions that African writers at such meetings should raise. Personally I am not afraid to air my dirty linen in public, for how else shall I get it clean? To erase a border, you have to acknowledge it stands in your way first. . . .

Continental Unity & Political Platforms

The first thing is that we have to be wary about people who promise a single solution for the continent. There needs to be more conversations and more ideas. We need the input of different experts. There are some important questions that I have not been able to answer because of my training in political theory and literature. For example, what would the economy of a united Africa look like? What would the economical benefits be? What kind of trade? For this kind of questions we do need economists to step in.

But with that said, I am all for a United Africa. I imagine that when in 1946 Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe, so soon after the 2nd World War, many must have thought him still shell-shocked. It was unimaginable that a mere generation later there would be a European Union. We have to dream! My general philosophy hearkens back to Steve Biko my vision certainly calls for equitable distribution of wealth a just Africa will have to redistributive in nature. Let us not forget that close to half of Africans live in crippling poverty. Freedom can only be a word amidst debilitating poverty. We also need to be in control of our natural resources. There are some things that do right and we need to protect them for example, I think we have one of the most comprehensive anti-nuclear proliferation treaties. 

No political office for me. I do however hope that we will soon have politicians running for office on a Pan-African platform, with the promise that if elected he or she will work toward African Unification. Only then shall we be sure that Pan-Africanism has become of mass concern. . . .

Responsibility & Shifting Generations

I have grown up believing that anything is possible and I think in large part because of my father. For example, I have never doubted that I could write a book, since I saw them being written at home. Having him for a father does make it easier to dream. He is also my best critic. In fact, I just recently finished a novel tentatively titled The First and Second Books of Transition and he commented extensively on all the drafts.

And of course it helps to have a father that you look up to, that inspires you. So his newly released global epic, Wizard of the Crow has me now thinking of in the future writing a multi-generational epic about a single family in pre-colonial Kenya, each generation struggling through each historical epoch all the way through our current age. So I do love him for his writing, and his principled intellectual and political work.

But at the end of day, as a writer you can only be responsible for your own imagination. So in this regard, when I am in an act of writing my background is literally that, my background. Between my pen and page, when I sit down to write there can only be space for my imagination trying to find expression. I think this is true of every artist.

Source: African Writer

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Africa Is Not a Proverb By Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Restoring a radical discourse on Africa—these words, I felt, had gone awry right from the moment they escaped my tongue; or rather, as soon as with great effort I rolled them down my tongue, and into the microphone only to see them spill at the feet of the audience.  Caution - Enter at your own Risk.

As I read my poem, “African Revolutions,” I kept hearing the words rushing down the podium with the constancy of a fast moving train so certain on set rails—and on eventual destruction. I couldn't pull the brakes. What a way to introduce a poem! Couldn't I have simply said poems do not need introduction and ushered in mine, alone to fend for itself with neither preface nor epilogue?

I rolled out line after line—“Her womb pressed against the desert to bear/ the parasite that eats her insides like termites drilling dry wood/ he is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord until mercifully the sigh of the last line—for a tree to grow comrade, it must first own its own earth.”  Finally I was done.  As I walked back to my seat on the stage, followed by silent and polite applause, I pondered over the landscape I had suddenly fallen upon.

My crime?  I had done what is simply not done; I had brought politics to a celebration of African cultures. Now, ready yourself for a stray quote from Fanon—"Every generation must out of relative obscurity find its mission, fulfill it or betray it."  But here the earth's wretched have gathered for a banquet - what polite conversation shall accompany the clinking of the champagne glasses? What hungers do those black hands cradling the stem of a wine glass reflect? . . .—Zeleza

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African Revolutions

       By  Mukoma wa Ngugi

Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite

that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood. 

He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord. 

She dies sighing, child son at last.  He couldn't have known,


instinct told himalways raise your arm in defense of your

ownStrike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells 

in your hands milk bottle held between your toes,

you have been anointed twice, you strong enough to kill


at birth and survive.  You will want to name the world

after yourself but you will have no name- a collage of dead

roots, tongues and other things.  You will point your sword

to the center of the earth, duel the world to split into perfect


mirrors after your imperfect  mutations but you will be

too weak having latched your self onto too many streams

straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self

as one does fruits from an orchard, building a home


of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror

with a face that washes clean every rainy season? 

He has an identity for every occasionhere he is Lenin

 there Jesus and yesterday Marxinflexible truths inherited


without roots.  To be nothing to remain nothing, to kill

at birth - such love can only drink from our wrists.  We

storming from our past to Jo'Burg eating wisdom of others

building homes made of our grandparent's bones.  We


gathering momentum that eats out of our earth, We standing

pens and bullets hurled at you, your enemies.  Comrade, there

are many ways to die. A dog dies never having known

why it lived but a free death belongs to a life lived in roots,


roots not afraid of growing where they stand, roots tapped all over

the earth. Comrade, for a tree to grow, it must first own its earth.

Source: Zeleza

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Interview with Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (born January 5, 1938) is a Kenyan author, formerly working in English and now working in Gĩkũyũ. His work includes novels, plays, short stories, and essays, ranging from literary and social criticism to children's literature. He is the founder and editor of the Gikuyu-language journal, Mutiiri.

In 1977, Ngugi embarked upon a novel form of theater in his native Kenya which sought to liberate the theatrical process from what he held to be "the general bourgeois education system," by encouraging spontaneity and audience participation in the performances. Ngugi's project sought to "demystify" the theatrical process, and to avoid the "process of alienation [which] produces a gallery of active stars and an undifferentiated mass of grateful admirers" which, according to Ngugi, encourages passivity in "ordinary people." Although Ngaahika Ndeenda was a commercial success, it was shut down by the authoritarian Kenyan regime six weeks after its opening. Ngugi was subsequently imprisoned for over a year.

Adopted as an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience, the artist was released from prison, and fled Kenya.

In the United States, he taught at Yale University for some years, and has since also taught at New York University, with a dual professorship in Comparative Literature and Performance Studies, and the University of California, Irvine. Ngũgĩ has frequently been regarded as a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.—Wikipedia  

posted 27 August 2010 

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The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest. We’re all better off when we’re all better off. The model of citizenship depends on contagious behavior, hence positive behavior begets positive behavior

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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