Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (born January 5, 1938) is a Kenyan author, formerly working in English and now working in Gĩkũyũ. His work includes novels, plays, short stories, essays and scholarship, criticism and children's literature. He is the founder and editor of the Gikuyu-language journal, Mutiiri. Ngugi went into self-imposed exile following his release from a Kenyan prison in 1977; living in the United States, he taught at Yale University for some years, and has since also taught at New York University, where he was Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Languages, with a dual professorship in Comparative Literature and Performance Studies, and the University of California, Irvine.
He published his first novel, Weep Not, Child, in 1964, which he wrote while attending the University of Leeds in England. It was the first novel in English to be published by an East African. His second novel, The River Between (1965), has as its background the Mau Mau rebellion, and described an unhappy romance between Christians and non-Christians.
His novel A Grain of Wheat (1967) marked his embrace of Fanonist Marxism. He subsequently renounced English, Christianity, and the name James Ngugi as colonialist; he changed his name to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and began to write in his native Gĩkũyũ and Swahili. The uncensored political message of his 1977 play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) provoked then Vice President Daniel arap Moi to order his arrest. While detained in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, he wrote the first modern novel in Gĩkũyũ, Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ (Devil on the Cross), on prison-issued toilet paper.
His later works include Detained, his prison diary (1981), Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986), an essay arguing for African writers' expression in their native languages, rather than European languages, in order to renounce lingering colonial ties and to build an authentic African literature, and Matigari (1987), one of his most famous works, a satire based on a Gĩkũyũ folktale.
In 1992 he became a professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at New York University, where he held the Erich Maria Remarque Chair. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature as well as the Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.
On August 8, 2004, Ngũgĩ ended his exile to return to Kenya as part of a month-long tour of East Africa. On August 11, robbers broke into his apartment: they stole money and a computer, brutalised the professor, and raped his wife. Since then, Ngũgĩ has returned to America, and in the summer 2006 the American publishing firm Random House published his first new novel in nearly two decades, Wizard of the Crow, translated to English from Gĩkũyũ by the author.
On November 10, 2006, while in San Francisco at Hotel Vitale at the Embarcadero, Prof. Thiong'o was harassed and ordered to leave the hotel by an employee. The event led to a public outcry which angered the Kenyan community in the San Francisco Bay area , and prompted an apology by the hotel.