Mukoma Wa Ngugi is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of the novels Black Star Nairobi, Nairobi Heat and a book of poems, Hurling Words at Consciousness. A novel, Mrs. Shaw (novel, Ohio University/Swallow Press) and a collection of poems, Hunting Words with my Father (Africa Poetry Fund/University of Nebraska press) are forthcoming in 2015. He is currently working on a book that looks at the African literature tradition tentatively titled The Rise of the African Novel and the English Metaphysical Empire: Language, Politics and Identity. Mukoma is the co-founder of the Mabati-Cornell Prize for African Literature and co-director of the Global South Project.
Ake Review: Does African literature exist?
Mukoma Wa Ngugi:A lot of African writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o worked very hard in order to contribute to the African literary tradition – and for that they paid a heavy price suffering detention and exile. This was because for them the African writer was in the service of decolonization and they stood against dictators and their neocolonial cultural and economic systems. We really need to stop this obsession with how the West perceives us. And we should not use racial anxieties as the yardstick of African aesthetics. So what if the West thinks Africa is a country? African writers created African literature as a contribution to world literature – but also for a greater pan-Africanism.
Name one privilege of being a creative person?
I cannot think of a single privilege that other professions do not have. Though when I am in the writing poetry or fiction space, the world is more beautiful. Then when I am done, I re-enter day to say reality.
Do you engage in any rituals to stimulate creativity?
I have no rituals but envy writers that do. For fiction let the story cook in my head first and then start writing when I have a vague outline and there is no way of controlling this. For poetry, I usually start with a single image that I then develop into the poem. The images exist outside of me so there is no way of controlling that either.
If there is reoccurring theme in your creative work, what is it and why is it important to you?
Music. I believe all languages have music – that the first language was music.
You’ve been invited to join a handful of other African authors on a special literary performance on the moon. What say you?
No thank you very much – I would very much like to have an audience here on earth. As Bob Marley sang, don’t tell me that heaven is not on the earth, “if you know what life is worth, You would look for yours on earth.”
If Africa was a fruit, which one would it be and why?
Guava mostly because I love the name- and its both hard and soft.
Name two books you think every African should read and why?
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon because we are still grappling with issues he dealt with in that book – we need a history of revolutionary ideas. And Walter Rodney’s How Europe Under developed Africa for the same reasons.
What invention do you think would change the lives of Africans?
We need to first change the political culture that allows us to democratically elect fosill presidents from the 20th Century. No invention can do that for us.
So, you’re not reading or writing, what are you doing?
Thinking I should be reading, or writing.
What’s your Africa?
Radical and Pan-African.
Source: Ake Review: www.akereview.com
*Some of the answers of Ake Review have been modified a bit in this Interview.