Nobel Prize eludes author Ngugi wa Thiong’o again

Kenya's legendary fiction writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. [File, Standard]

It is a sad moment for the fans of Kenya’s celebrated writer of fiction, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, after failing to secure the Nobel Prize in Literature following years of anticipation over his likely win.

On Thursday, the award committee announced American poet Louise Gluck as the laureate casting the author of The River Between to his near-permanent state of a perennial contender of the coveted prize.

The 1943-born poet was awarded "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal" said Mats Malm, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy during the ceremony in Stockholm on Thursday.

The author who made her debut in 1968, with her anthology Firstborn is a professor of English at Yale University.  Most of her works are themed around childhood experiences and family life. She also received Pulitzer Prize in 1993 and the National Book Award in 2014.

The prize, according to the will by Alfred Nobel, is given to an individual who has produced the most outstanding work in a perfect course.

Ngugi has often downplayed his disappointment with the slippery prize by claiming that he was not writing for prizes and that he had no say in the decision by the academy.

Last year on February during ‘The duel of the ridges’ talk at St Paul’s University in Limuru, Ngugi touched on the subject of the prize where he said he valued “Nobel of the heart” than any other.

Years of speculations

He jokingly recalled some years back when it had been rumoured that he would be declared the winner before another author was announced. It was in 2016 when Bob Dylan, the American singer, author and visual artist was announced the 2016 winner of the prize.

“Journalists walked into our house and they were really sad. My wife took time to console them,” he said.

But when he was declared the winner of the 2019 Premi Prize, not only did Ngugi jovially accept the recognition by The Government of Catalonia, but he also delivered his acceptance speech in Gikuyu language to affirm his advocacy for local languages that informed his win.

The Premi Prize came barely a month after he clinched the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize offered by Germany.

Among those who had been mentioned as potential winners included the Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Conde, Canadian author Margaret Atwood, Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Canadian poet Carson and Antiguan-American writer Kincaid.

The mode of selection of winners has often raised criticism especially after November 2017, when sexual abuse and financial misappropriation allegations hit the academy.

The controversy led to the suspension of the prize in 2018. A year later, Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk was announced the 2018 winner.

But the woes continued to stalk the academy with last year’s declaration of Austrian author Peter Handke evoking criticism. The winner was accused of playing a role in the Serbian atrocities during the war in the country.

Since the prize was introduced, there have been 116 winners.

As readers of Gluck continue applauding her win, those of Ngugi have nothing to smile about.

On October 6, The State University of New York (SUNY) Distinguished Professor Makau tweeted, "On October 8, 2020, @NobelPrize announces the Nobel Prize in Literature. If it’s not Prof Ngugi wa Thiongo, the world’s greatest author never so honoured, I will ERASE the Nobel Committee from my literary and academic consciousness."

So it came to pass that Ngugi missed out again and the frustrated professor tweeted his disappointment minutes after the announcement, "As of today, I’ve CANCELED @NobelPrize for ONCE AGAIN overlooking Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o."