Ngugi wa Thiong’o, distinguished professor of English and comparative literature and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation, has won the California Book Award Gold Medal for his 2006 novel ‘Wizard of the Crow.’ Ngugi will be presented with this award, along with a $2,000 cash prize, on June 7 at a ceremony in San Francisco.
The Commonwealth Club created the California Book award created in 1931 to recognize outstanding fiction and nonfiction publications in eight categories. With no more than three awards issued per year, it is considered as one of the state’s most prestigious and honorary literary awards. Previous winners include literary Nobel Prize winners John Steinbeck and Czeslaw Milosz, poet Robert Hass and UC Irvine alumni Michael Chabon.
Ngugi describes his satire of African politics, intertwined with magical realism, as a ‘global epic from Africa.’ The ‘Wizard of the Crow’ takes place in the fictional nation of Aburiria, which is described as a nation ‘of crooked roads, robberies, runaway viruses of death, hospitals without medicine, rampant unemployment without relief, daily insecurity, epidemic alcoholism.’
The ruler of Aburiria sets out to build the world’s tallest building, to be called ‘Marching to Heaven,’ and travels to New York to obtain loan from the Global Bank for the construction of the tower. While on his journey, he begins growing larger and larger so the Wizard of the Crow, a sorcerer, comes to cure him. The 700-page book describes their journey together, through the use of multiple voices and viewpoints.
‘It has depth and scope, taking in the pathos of a nation tightening the noose on itself,’ said the book award jurors in a UCI press release dated April 13. ‘Thanks to the film ‘Last King of Scotland,’ we’ve recently had an up-close look at a despot. Here the author places his ruler within the context of not just colonialism, but also the rich African mythologies that are such a deep part of the culture. The novel feels both real and unreal at the same time, and the thread of stories is the unifying factor that keeps the pages turning.’
Ngugi worked on his novel for eight years and ultimately completed it before joining the UCI faculty.
Ngugi endured imprisonment in Kenya for his literary works and was branded as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International, which led to an international campaign for his freedom. He was forced into exile in 1982 and did not re-emerge until 2004. At that time, he introduced the Kenyan-language edition of ‘Wizard of the Crow,’ entitled Murogi wa Kagogo.
Ngugi’s novel obtained reviews from publications around the world, including TIME Europe and The New York Times, and appeared on the list for the Commonwealth Foundations Writers Prize. In addition, his work received a nomination for the 38th Annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Awards.
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