Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o becomes first writer to be nominated for the International Booker Prize as both Author and Translator

The literary giant is also the first nominee writing in an indigenous African language

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Celebrated author, playwright, and activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o has made history by becoming the first writer to be nominated for the International Booker Prize as both Author and Translator.

The literary giant is also the first nominee writing in an indigenous African language (Kikuyu). The International Booker Prize is awarded every year to a book of fiction in any language that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It is run alongside the Booker Prize for English-language fiction. The prize money is split between the book's author and its translator.

Thiong'o is among 13 authors nominated for the award for best translated fiction, standing a chance to walk away with £50,000 prize (Sh7,529,381.73).

He earned the nomination (writer and translator) through his novel dubbed The Perfect Nile, described by the judges as “a magisterial and poetic tale about women’s place in a society of gods”, and written in the Bantu language Gikuyu. Thiong’o used to write novels in English until 1970 when he resolved to wrote in his mother tongue.

This year’s International Booker longlist spans 11 languages and 12 countries, and many of its works also cross genres.

Gikuyu Language

In 2020, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o used his mother tongue Gikuyu language while making an acceptance speech for the 31st Catalonia International Prize by the Catalan government.

Ngũgĩ was honored with the prestigious award for his distinguished and courageous literary work and his defense of African languages.

The ceremony for his award was presided over Catalan president Quim Torra and was held virtually due to Covid19 concerns.

The celebrated author said he received news of the award in December 2019 while bedridden at a hospital in California where he had undergone a bypass heart surgery.

He dedicated the award to his late mother, Wanjiku wa Ngũgĩ, in a traditional kikuyu song.

Premi Internacional Catalunya – Catalonia’s most prestigious award given to people who has significantly contributed to Humankind throughout the world.

Ironically, Ngũgĩ was imprisoned and forced to flee to exile over his Gikuyu works, particularly the play, Ngaahika Ndenda which earned him over a year at Kamiti Maximum Prison.

He currently lives in California where he continues writing in Gikuyu and at the same time teaching literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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