Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Ngũgĩ mss. (ca. 1950s-2014) consist of the papers of Kenyan author, playwright, essayist, educator, and activist Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o. Born in Limuru, Kenya, on January 5, 1938, Ngũgĩ was raised a Christian and attended Church of Scotland Mission school at Kamaandura. Eventually he attended a Gĩkũyũ independent school, and later Alliance High School. He went on to attend Makerere University College; Kampala, Uganda; and the University of Leeds, Britain. Both British colonialism (which ended in 1963) and the Mau Mau Rebellion had a profound impact on him, and each is reflected in his non-fiction writings and creative works.

Ngũgĩ burst onto the theatrical and literary scenes with his acclaimed debut play, The Black Hermit (1963), and his successful first novel, Weep Not, Child (1964). He cemented his reputation with a pair of subsequent novels: The River Between (1965) and A Grain of Wheat (1967). Years later, he caused a stir with The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) a stage production about the Mau Mau Rebellion. Ngũgĩ’s novel Petals of Blood and play Ngaahika Ndeenda (aka I Will Marry When I Want), both 1977, were openly critical of life in neo-colonial Kenya and precipitated his imprisonment from December 31, 1977--December 12, 1978. (He never was formally charged with a crime.) Ngũgĩ found employment difficult following his release and eventually fled into exile in 1982. That same year he published Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary, an account of his incarceration, and Devil on the Cross, which he surreptitiously wrote in on a roll of toilet paper in his native Gĩkũyũ (the first modern novel in that language) while imprisoned. His later works include two novels, Matigari (1989) and The Wizard of the Crow (2006), and two memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War and In the House of the Interpreter (2012). He has taught and lectured at several universities in the United Kingdom and United States, most recently at the University of California, Irvine, and has received numerous honorary doctorates and literary awards.

The collection is organized into the following series: I. Writings; II. Photographs; III. Correspondence; IV. Education and Conferences; V. Subject Files; VI. Research; VII. Miscellaneous; VIII. Audio-Visual and Storage Media; IX. Publications and Clippings; X. Politics; XI. Interviews; XII. Financial; XIII. Legal; XIV. Awards, Certificates, Degrees.

Writings include original drafts of all of Ngũgĩ’s significant works, many in both English (or English translation) and Gĩkũyũ. Included as well are screenplays and other materials pertaining to a documentary about the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, co-directed by Ngũgĩ. Approximately five decades of correspondence, primarily with friends, colleagues, and publishers, are also featured, with letters pertaining to (and in protest of) Ngũgĩ’s 1977-1978 incarceration of particular interest.

An inventory is available

Acquired: 2016

Collection size: 150,000 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.