Q&A: Ngugi wa Thiong’o
by Matt Cheney
Ngugi has just returned from traveling, but was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work, his ideas, and Wizard of the Crow:
Q: How did you settle on the structure and design of Wizard of the Crow? It is such a large, rich, all-encompassing book … how did you decide what to put in, what to leave out, and which characters’ stories to tell at particular times?
Ngugi: The writing of Wizard of the Crow was more of a possession than conscious plotting. The structure developed with the story. As they dawned on me, many incidents were a surprise to me too, often eliciting laughter. However editing later does allow for reduction of redundancies.
Q: Much has changed in Kenya, in Africa, in the world since you began work on Wizard of the Crow — did those changes affect how the book progressed when you wrote it or translated it?
Ngugi: No, no, because the essence of globalization within Africa and between Africa and the West remains the same despite surface changes. That is why I call it a global epic from Africa.
Art cannot be outside that which affects human beings. Art, literature, is about life, about the quality of human lives, about human relationships. Therefore whatever affects the quality of human life, whatsoever affects the changing pattern of human relationships is connected with a legitimate area of art. As such, any art which divorces itself from those social forces that impinge on human lives can only be an art which is denying itself its real life-force. So politics, economics — everything which has to do with the struggle of human beings — is a legitimate concern of art.
Literature is indeed a powerful weapon. I believe that we in Africa or anywhere else for that matter have to use literature deliberately and consciously as a weapon of struggle in two ways: a) first, by trying as much as possible to correctly reflect the world of struggle in all its stark reality, and b) secondly, by weighting our sympathies on the side of those forces struggling against national and class oppression and exploitation, say, against the entire system of imperialism in the world today. I believe that the more conscious a writer is about the social forces at work in his society and in the world, the more effective he or she is likely to be as a writer. We writers must reject the bourgeois image of a writer as a mindless genius.
Reviews of Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o