The Makerere Consensus and The Rise of the African Novel in English  

Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Cornell University)

May 16, 2022, 17h00

Amphitheater III, Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Coimbra


Moderation: Catarina Martins (CES)


Mukoma Wa Ngugi lecture will center around the 1962 Makerere University “Conference of African Writers of English Expression” and how and why colonially educated African writers and critics privileged the English-language African novel. And how in the course of doing so created an African literary aesthetic that erased early writing in African languages while celebrating an English only consensus. This is therefore also a lecture on the accompanying costs to the African literary tradition as subsequent generations of writers and critics worked mostly from the African Novel in English Only consensus.

The African novel was also central in cementing a much-needed Pan-African identity in decolonization. As Simon Gikandi argued in his essay “Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Culture” there was a “consensus that Things Fall Apart was important for the marking and making of that exciting first decade of decolonization” (4) and it gave symbol and substance to a Pan-African identity. While recognizing the importance of the Achebe generation in the African literary tradition, I will challenge that narrowing of the identities of both the African novel and writer in what I call the Makerere consensus. I will call for both an African literary criticism and tradition that embraces its history of writing in African languages and for a broader African identity that is historically diasporic and presently transnational.

Bio note

Mukoma Wa Ngugi is an Associate Professor of Literatures in English at Cornell University and the author of recently released Unbury Our Dead with Song (Cassava Republic Press, 2021), The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity and Ownership (UoM Press, 2018) Black Star Nairobi(Melville, 2013),Nairobi Heat(Penguin, SA 2009, Melville House Publishing, 2011), and two books of poetry, Logotherapy (U-Nebraska Press and Hurling Words at Consciousness (AWP, 2006). Mrs. Shaw (Ohio University Press, 2015) was released in Eastern Africa as We, the Scarred by Paivapo Press in 2020). Nairobi Heat has just been optioned by a major Hollywood studio.

He is the co-founder of the Mabati – Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Writing, and ituika.org, a literary platform dedicated to translating and writing in African languages. At Cornell, he along with Professors Carole Boyce Davies and Derrick Spears amongst others was at the forefront of changing the Department's name from Department of English to Literatures in English. In 2014, New African Magazine named him one of the 100 most Influential Africans.

The German translation of Nairobi Heat was named the 2014 Crime Book of the Season by Buchkultur. In 2009, he was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing and the Penguin Prize for African Writing for his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition in 2010.

In 2015 he was a juror for the Writivism Short Story Prize and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He co-edited with Prof. Laura Murphy, a Special Issue of New Orleans Review titled The African Literary Hustle. In 2016, he wrote an eight-part play radio play, Drugs to Kill, Drug to Cure for Deutsche Welle that was translated into Portuguese, Lingala, Kiswahili, Hausa and French.

A former co-editor of Pambazuka News, his essays have been published in World Literature Today, LA Review of Books, The World Today, The Black Commentator, Progressive Magazine and Radical History Review. His short stories have been published in Wasafiri, African Writing, Kenyon Review and St. Petersburg Review, and his poems in the New York Quarterly, Mythium, Brick Magazine, Kwani? and Tin House Magazine amongst other publications.

Mukoma holds a PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English and Political Science from Albright College.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is the son of world-renowned African writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

Org: Doctoral Programmes  Discourses: Culture, History and Society and Post-Colonialisms and Global Citizenship