‘The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright’ by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o, translated by the author

From the great literary continent of Africa, from one of Africa’s greatest ever writers, perhaps the world’s most translated, anthologised short story, it would be difficult indeed to overstate the power of Ngūgī wa Thiong’o’s ‘The Upright Revolution, or Why Humans Walk Upright’. Written as a fable, in Kikuyu, ‘Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ’, this is a story about how and why the humans began to walk upright. If you read this one, read it alongside Ngugi’s Decolonising the Mind, in which Ngūgī writes about the politics of language, and the violence of English. I have always read each body part in the fable as an African language, and the fable’s enduring refrain, that each body part must learn to walk with each other, as a call to Africa’s shared continental heritage. The Upright Revolution.

First published in Kikuyu as ‘Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ’. Published in English in Translation Issue, Jalada Africa Trust, 2016, and available to read here. Indian publisher Seagull published an illustrated edition in 2019

‘Without a Shadow of Doubt: My First Lesson in Art and Film’ by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

The question of “race” comes up in much of my work and this story I found to be a brilliant take on the subject. Two young Kenyan boys set off to discover whether everybody’s shadow is black like theirs, or whether, as they suspect, white people have white shadows. This is a beautifully written story— both touchingly funny and profound in its insights on childhood and on race. To hear and see the author read this story aloud with a twinkle in his eye (as I did recently in San Francisco) was one of the most enjoyable author readings I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.

Collected in Minutes of Glory, The New Press, 2019