Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Wins $50,000 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature

The judges called the Kenyan author a “transformative figure in African Literature.”
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Ngugi wa Thiong'o by Steve Zylius/UCI.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o by Steve Zylius/UCI.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will receive the 2022 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. The Kenyan author follows Edna O’Brien, Philip Roth, Anne Carson, and William Gass as the fifth person, and first African, honouree. Also named winners this year are Elaine May and Jackie Sibblies Dury.

Founded in 2016, the PEN/Nabokov Award is conferred annually by the PEN America Literary Awards Program, on a living author whose work, written in or translated into English, “represents the highest level of achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship.” It is named after Vladimir Nabokov.

Considered a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s work comprises novels, plays, essays, children’s books, and short story collections. He has received numerous honours, including the Zola Neale Hurston-Paul Robeson Award, the Fonlon-Nichols Prize for Artistic Excellence and Human Rights, and the Grand Prix des mécènes. Recently, he was elected a Royal Society of Literature International Writer, and shortlisted for the International Booker Prize for his novel The Perfect Nine last year. For decades, he has written primarily in Gikuyu, and is the founder and editor of the Gikuyu journal Mũtĩiri.

Judges David Treuer, Laila Lalami, and Mónica de la Torre called the author a “transformative figure in African Literature,” writing that “his refusal to be silenced and his insistence on the value of indigenous languages has inspired a generation of younger writers.”

PEN America President Ayad Akhtar, in a press statement, described him and co-winner Elaine May as “trailblazers” and “extraordinary commentators of our times, and of the enduring poignancies of the human condition.”

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The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature is worth $50,000, and will be presented to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o at the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City, on February 28, 2022.

Paula Willie-Okafor
Paula Willie-Okafor is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. She is a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she is custodian of The Writers' Community (TWC). Her writing has appeared in Kissing Dynamite Magazine and Praxis Magazine.

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