The celebrated African novelist, playwright, and activist, born in Kenya in 1938, revisits the early experiences that convinced him he was a writer.
Wa Thiong’o (English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of California, Irvine; In the House of the Interpreter, 2015, etc.) is a genial tour guide on this journey through his early years. One theme continually appears: his gratitude for his mother, who encouraged him early and often. The author proceeds in a gentle chronology as he takes us through his home life, schooling, and his discovery that he wanted to write—and that he had a natural talent for the craft. He wrote plays in school (winning a competition) and then began freelancing for local publications, including an extensive stint with a newspaper; he eventually resigned when he realized his passions lay in fiction and drama. Throughout, there are illustrations from his youth, including photos of people and clippings of his early publications and plays. Bubbling just below the surface—sometimes on the surface—is the fierce politics of the era, which featured the end of colonialism, the rise of brutal dictators, and countless ethnic clashes. As he acknowledges, the author was fortunate to avoid trouble early, but he also alludes to later years when he was incarcerated, experiences that are likely to appear in a subsequent memoir. Throughout, wa Thiong’o is careful to credit not just his mother, but some key teachers, friends, and significant supporters. Although the text communicates a clear pride in his accomplishments, the author notes repeatedly that his successes came not just from his talent and work ethic, but also from those who believed in him. He was able to study literature and literary theory at Makerere University in Kampala, Congo, and later at the University of Leeds. Through it all, “the desire to weave dreams remained aflame.”
A writer’s coming-of-age tale featuring an artistic mix of pride and humility.