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East African Literary Icon Wins Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize

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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o wins the 2019 Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize

Kenyan literary icon, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has won the 2019 Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize. The prize which is worth €25,000 is for his collection of essays, ‘Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature” (You can order it here). However, the book is not a recent publication. It was first published 33-years ago (1986) by Heinemann Educational in Nairobi. The book was also published by James Currey in London and Zimbabwe Publishing House in Harare. Consequently, Brittle Paper, an online literary magazine describes the book as,

“One of the most studied, storied and cited books in African literature and postcolonial studies, and the foremost globally arguing for linguistic decolonization.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s book comprises four essays namely “The Quest for Relevance”, “The Language of African Fiction”, “The Language of African Theatre”, and “The Language of African Literature”. However, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has been writing in his native Kikuyu (Gikuyu) language since 1984. Subsequently, his texts are translated into English.

A brief history of the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize

The Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize is a biennial prize named after the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque. Erich Maria Remarque is the author of “All Quiet on the Western Front”. In the press release announcing the prize, the jury said,

“With Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o we are honoring a writer who is concerned with the self-determination of African cultures and with a dissociation from colonial constraints. His attempt to create a dialogue through literature in spite of or indeed because of the different languages evokes understanding for this continent and can thus contribute towards peace. Also with regard to the avoidance of a new colonialism, as endeavored today by China, for example, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is an important representative of independence through language.”

The prize is awarded by the German city of Osnabrück since 1991. However, the award is in recognition of a fictional, scientific, or journalistic work that demonstrates a commitment to peace, humanity and freedom. This year marks the 15th time of the award since its inception in 1991. Consequently, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will receive the prize at a ceremony in Friedenssaal (Hall of Peace), Osnabrück, Germany on November 29.

In a separate statement, the representative of the city of Osnabrückon the prize jury, Lord Mayor Wolfgang Griesert said,

“Especially in his essays Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o refers at a very early stage to the highly topical discussion concerning the consequences of the colonial era. Here, for instance, I am thinking of the question of the return of the captured cultural heritage – and the necessity of overcoming the power structures in the post-colonial states of Africa, which were also enabled or even only made possible in the first place by the European states.”

Other works by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

In addition to being a writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has taught comparative literature and English at Yale University, New York University, and the University of California, Irvine, where he presently resides. In January, a few days after his 81st birthday, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o announced his 34th book. The book is a Gikuyu philosophical epic. It goes by the title, “Kenda Muiyuru: Rugano Rwa Gikuyu na Mumbi”. However, Its English translation, “The Perfect Nine: The Story of Gikuyu and Mumbi” will come late from the stable of East African Educational Publishers.

Previous winners of the Erich-Maria-Remarque Peace Prize include;

  • Aslı Erdoğan (2017)
  • Adonis (2016)
  • Abdallah Frangi and Avi Primor (2013)
  • Tahar Ben Jelloun (2011)
  • Henning Mankell (2009)
  • Dr. Tony Judt (2007)
  • Leoluca Orlando (2005)
  • Prof. Dr. Dan Bar-On and Mahmoud Darwish (2003)
  • Svetlana Alexievish (2001)
  • Houshang Golshiri (1999)
  • Ludvik Vaculik (1997)
  • Uri Avnery (1995)
  • Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1993)
  • Lev Kopelev (1991)
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