Feature || 2017 Nobel Prize For Literature: How Fair Was The Swedish Academy To Ngugi Wa Thiongo? By Abubakar Akote || The Arts-Muse Fair

Photo: Google image

English writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, and The Remains of the Day, was recently named by the Swedish Academy as the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Announcing the winner, the Academy, said of him, “he has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of the world…If you mix Jane Austen and Kafka, you have Kazuo Ishiguro’s work.”
Kazuo Ishiguro. Photo: Google image
Although this year’s announcement was not greeted with a global shock as last year’s when it was awarded to a songwriter, Bob Dylan, it was no less shocking to many Africans who bandied the speculation that Kenyan writer; Ngugi Wa Thiongo was set to win the Prize this year. Even as there were doubts by some pundits of Ngugi’s chance of winning the prize largely because his writings were seen to be anti-west, it was still being expected that the Prize would be his to pick.
Ngugi Wa Thiongo. Photo: Google image
The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Professor Sara Danius, in an interview with journalists said Ishiguro's writing style has a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka: "But you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix, and then you stir."

Reacting to his award on BBC, Ishiguro was quoted as saying that winning the prize a magnificent honour, mainly because it means that I’m in the footsteps of the greatest authors that have lived”.

Prior to the announcement of the winner, Abdullahi Ismaila, a novelist, poet and essayist, posited rightly that Ngugi Wa Thiongo would not get the Prize because his writing is against the West. In the same vein, Auwal Dankano, another Nigerian, pointed out on facebook post that “I don’t think Wa Thiongo will scale through, as he is a racist, and opposes European culture. Read his works, of course majority of literary icons are Marxist, but in his own case, he hates white men, portrays them as devils”.

In addition to the number of books he has authored, Ngugi’s decision to quit writing in English which Zoe Norridge described as “brave move” should have fetched him the award.

He has spent most of his life writing award-winning books. Most of these books were description of corruption in the corridors of power and exploitation of blacks by the white.

His books include Weep Not, Child (1964), Petals of Blood (1977), Wizard of the Crow (2006),A Grain of Wheat (1967) among others. Ngugi is the founder and editor of the Giguyu language journal “Mutiiri’.
Ngugi Wa Thiongo renounced his Biblical name “James”, English Language, and Christianity regarding them all as colonialist and changed his name to “Ngugi Wa Thiongo and has since started writing in Gikuyu and Swahili.

Godwin Siundu observed that Ngugi’s concern for cultural decolonisation may be the thing that put off the Swedish Academy.

However, soon after Ishiguro was announced as the Nobel Prize winner, Gimba Kakanda, a Nigerian writer currently in Iowa on a writing residency reacted on his facebook timeline that, “If a lyricist could be chosen for recognition in a world that had Ngugi wa Thiong'o, I don't see why we should be astonished by the choice of a first-rate novelist for this year's Nobel prize. Kazuo Ishiguro deserved the honour, and has for years been a prose stylist of acclaim, one I skimmed through even recently”.

Betraying the general African sentiment, he added that “But asked to choose between him and Thiong'o, I won't spare a moment to elect the latter. Thiong'o's contribution to literature, and promotion of it, is unparalleled. I believe it's hard to find his match among living writers today. But like all prizes, the Nobel Prize too has its underlying political agenda.”

Some reactions pointed to the need for Africa to institutionalize its own awards. Tade Ipadeola, award winning poet, noted that “The Academy, I suppose, wanted to make a political statement against the creeping resurgence of Nazi culture. Trump did this. I was hoping it would be Ngugi or Kundera.”

Opeyemi Dedayo, a playwright observed that “Ngugi did not clinch the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. That was no doubt disappointing. The annual disregard of deserving laureates for the Nobel is not peculiar to the literature prize alone. There is more to the Nobel than we are willing to admit. Many greats have been bypassed by the Swedes”.