Ngûgî wa Thiong’o to open International Symposium

Legendary novelist, decolonial activist and professor, returns to his alma mater as part of the symposium organised by the Racial Justice Network.

The International Symposium on October 4th at the University of Leeds, will feature a delegation of scholar-activists primarily from Kenya. Confirmed speakers include Gary Younge, author, broadcaster and editor for The Guardian, and Esther Stanford-Xosei, reparationist, community advocate and educator. 

Professor Ngûgî will give an opening address at the University, his alma mater as part of Black history month and will then tour the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester before returning to Leeds for his keynote lecture, on 16th October.

His life and works 

The International Symposium will celebrate the Professor’s life and works, which have centred around “the decolonisation of the mind and the liberation of cultures from their colonial legacies.”  He has authored countless books, essays, plays and memoirs that explore pan-African experiences and histories, both within and outside of colonialism. 

He has lectured widely as a professor at the Universities of Nairobi, Makerere, Bayreuth, Yale, California, New York and he has achieved numerous awards from book prizes to Fellowships around the world. These include the 2001 International Nonino Prize and the 2016 Park Kyong-ni Prize.  Professor Ngûgî originally studied English at the University of Leeds in 1964 and returned to receive an Honorary doctorate of Letters (LittD) in 2004. 

To starve or kill a language is to starve and kill a people's memory bank

Professor Ngûgî wa Thiong’o

Decolonisation of language and memory 

Professor Ngûgî broke convention by writing only in his native language, Gikuyu and he advocates for African writers to embrace their native languages rather than writing in English or another European language, despite the pressure to do so from global publishers and other media.

He believes that championing African languages will support authors and their works to distance themselves from colonial ties with Europe and establish independent African literature. However, Ngûgî emphasises the richness of African languages and explains that they contain aspects of African history within them. 

This richness can be lost from both stories and collective memories if African stories are not told in their native languages. “To starve or kill a language is to starve and kill a people's memory bank,” he says in his collection of essays titled ‘Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance.’  He has also campaigned for African Universities to centre African rather than English literature in their courses.  

The International Symposium 

In Leeds, Professor Ngûgî will deliver a short address to those who are gathered to stimulate a lively conversation in remembrance of his time in Leeds, both at the University and where he lived in Chapeltown, Leeds. 

He will then visit the University of Sheffield where a Gukunguira will be held for him. In Manchester the following week, there will be an audience with the Rastafarian Community and African Disapora, exploring language and ‘normalised abnormalities’. 


Learn more about ‘Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o:

  • ‘Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: three days with a giant of African literature’ Guardian long read


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