The Racial Justice Network (RJN) is hosting Elder Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o in a Gukunguira: a celebration of his life and works.

During the UK’s African History Month of October, Professor Ngugi will tour cities in the north of England to deepen our knowledge by sharing reflections from a lifetime of boundary-shifting work. He will be accompanied by a delegation of fellow scholars and activists on decolonial and liberatory praxis. He will be honoured and acknowledged as the special guest of this Symposium, as we share the radical impacts of his works. Professor Ngugi’s scholarship powerfully inspires us all with knowledge concerning the decolonisation of the mind and the liberation of cultures from their colonial legacies.

Professor Ngugi is a giant of the Pan-Africanist movements for the Liberation of the human mind and consciousness and for pointing out the inconsistencies within language colonisation and what he refers to as ‘normalised abnormalities’. He has done so through producing works which span more than seven decades and an equal number of continents.

Professor Ngugi has authored 34 books, given countless talks and webinars, lectures and
presentations on the subject of decolonisation, language and cultural liberation. During a career that has featured in numerous films and documentaries, has received multiple awards, honorary positions and recognitions internationally.

The Professor will be accompanied by a party of scholars and educators from the University of Nairobi, as well as Kenyan community activists together with Pan-Africanist campaigners and educators from the UK. The group will tour three UK universities and community spaces in the North of England, namely: Leeds University (tbc) (his alma mater in the UK); Sheffield University and Manchester University on the dates given below, between the 3rd and the 18th of October, 2023.

Part of the rationale behind the Symposium is to continue the community education and pedagogical encounters held in Nairobi in January 2020, in collaboration between the Racial Justice Network, the University of Manchester and University of Nairobi on the theme of decolonising education. Alongside others, critical were the principles of decolonial practice that emerged from that work, which we wish to deepen and enlarge upon.
● The Racial Justice Network, led by its Chief Executive Officer, Peninah Wangari-J, will, on the 4th of October, 2023, receive and lead an opening tour of the Professor to the location of his alma mater, Leeds University, after visiting the RJN offices nearby. He 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.
● Between the 5th and 6th of October, 2023 Sheffield University have organised for the Professor to grace the Utopia Theatre on the 5th of October, 2023, where the Gukunguira, the traditional reception of honouring and acknowledgement, will be performed, held by members of the delegation. He will be regaled by a selection of the community familiar with his life and works and offer a short speech in acknowledgement of the same. The 6th October will see a hosting of a conversation with the delegation.
● The delegation will be in Manchester between the 11-13th of October, 2023. The 11th October will see the Professor and members of the delegation hold audience with members of the Rastafarian community and African Diaspora at the West Indian Centre in Moss Side,
acknowledging Manchester to be the site of the 1945 Pan-African Conference, which was an international meeting of minds in critical conversation and movements of solidarity heralding the gathering motion towards independence across the colonised world.
● On the following day the respected journalist Gary Younge and Pan-African Reparationist and Jurisprudent, Esther Stanford-Xosei, will be holding space for Professor Ngugi in Manchester University for his delivery of the prestigious Arthur Lewis annual Lecture on October 12 at 6pm in University Place Lecture Theatre. There will also be discussions on the following day continuing relations between the members of the Kenyan delegation and the university and the work of decolonisation, reparation and educational futures as part of the ongoing exchange between RJN and its global relations on these subjects.
● Finally on the 16th October, 2023, the Professor will deliver a Keynote lecture at the University of Leeds (TBC), which will include leading a special panel in a roundtable discussion. This will be a public lecture and discussion, which requires advance booking. It will serve to commemorate his life and work which arose from a place that was incredibly formative and impactful on his path, launching a lifelong commitment to cognitive and decolonial praxis.

An abbreviated Bio of Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o:
Ngugi was born in Kamirithu near Limuru, in 1938, in the ‘white’ highlands of Kenya, the heart of the colonised landscape. The colonial regime shaped his family’s life: one brother joined and died fighting in the Gĩkũyũ Land and Freedom army and the other was shot, point blank by colonial police as a result of his disability. These and other events of his life: studies at Makerere University and education by missionaries shaped his thinking throughout his studies and his writings as James Ngugi, as he communicated his insights through his early writing in English. In particular ‘Weep Not Child’(1964) and ‘The River Between’ (1965) which explored his colonial childhood. All of this intensified after his studies at Leeds University, where his encounters with Fanon’s writings and studies of George Lamming reactivated his commitment to the role of writing for his people and at the final stages of his dissertation, decided to recommit to his decolonial mission by writing ‘A Grain of Wheat’ (1967) which brought him back into prominence as a decolonial scholar. He returned to Kenya and in the early 70’s, he went on to denounce his colonised Christian name reclaiming his Gĩkũyũ name as Ngugi wa Thiong’o – recognising his father and embracing his cultural roots by subsequently deciding to write in the language into which he was born: Gĩkũyũ.

As a writer featured in school curricula and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Ngugi’s grassroots activities in the arts, and agitating for changes in the literature department led to him becoming hounded by and finally arrested by the Kenyan government of the 70’s and spending a year in prison. He continued to write in his own tongue and ‘Petals of Blood’ and ‘Devil on the Cross’ were released during that period. Upon release from prison he and his family’s hostile experiences led him to exile in London, then Stockholm and later the United States where, after professorships at Yale, at New York University, periods of activism spent in South Africa and speaking tours in Asia, he eventually took up residency as professor at the University of California, Irvine, up until recently. Professor Ngugi has received many distinguished awards, honorary doctorates and prizes between 1964 and 2022, acknowledging his unrelenting campaign against ‘normalised abnormalities’ resulting from colonisation. He is one of the few remaining scholars and activists whose work defines the grand eras of decolonisation of the African and global diasporic mind and we celebrate and honour his life’s work in Gukunguira.

His works include essays, plays, memoirs and fiction, a selection of which are:
Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture, and Politics (1972), Writers in Politics: Essays (1981) Education for a National Culture (1981), Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya (1983), Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (2012), In the Name of the Mother: Reflections on Writers and Empire (2013) and Secure the Base (2016) The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) and Ngaahika Ndeenda Ithaako ria ngerekano (I Will Marry When I Want (1977). Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary (1981) Dreams in a Time of War: a Childhood Memoir (2010), In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir (2012). Weep Not, Child (1964), The River Between (1965) A Grain of Wheat (1967, 1992) Petals of Blood (1977) Caitaani Mutharaba-Ini (Devil on the Cross (1980) Matigari ma Njiruungi (1986) and Mũrogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow) (1981), including for children: Njamba Nene and the Cruel Chief (1988) and Njamba Nene’s Pistol (1990) His most recent: Kenda Muiyuru: Rugano Rwa Gĩkũyũ na Mumbi was translated into English by him as: The Perfect Nine: The Story of Gĩkũyũ and Mumbi

For further information, enquiries and donations related to this event, the contact details are below:
Communications Team:
15 queen square, Leeds. LS2 8AJ
+44 7592 160352
+44 7874 824100
+44 7355 235484

To make it possible for the symposium to be as widely accessible as possible, we will especially appreciate
donations from institutions who recognise and have built upon the work of the esteemed Professor. All
donations will be going towards enabling the work of the international delegation to continue to apply and
share his teachings.

For more information and events schedule please visit the event page

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