Every year I root for Ngugi wa Thiong’o to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
The Kenyan writer has been a favorite to win for years. This year, according to gambling site Ladbrokes, the odds were 4-to-1 in Ngugi’s favor, with Haruki Murakami second at 7-to-1, and Don DeLillo at 12-to-1. Had Murakami or DeLillo won, I would have been disappointed.
Ngugi’s novel “Wizard of the Crow” was a 700-page masterpiece that seemed to invent a genre of its own, in between satire and magical realism, yet it had far fewer readers outside of Africa than “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle“ or “Underworld,” though it is a work of equivalent stature.
When I first heard about Bob Dylan’s selection for the 2016 literature prize instead of Ngugi, I wasn’t concerned that the award had gone to a musician; I was disturbed that the committee had demonstrated an apparent obliviousness to the times we are living in. Alfred Nobel directed that the prize be awarded “in the field of literature [to] the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” “Outstanding work” refers to literary merit, and “ideal direction” to values, indicating a role for the prize in shaping humanity’s outlook in each given year.
In October 2016, the United States is saddled with a presidential candidate who peddles in misogyny and appeals to white supremacists. In many other countries, neo-liberals are vying with the far right for power, and the left is at its weakest. In light of all of this, the Nobel committee’s decision felt infuriatingly myopic. This was the year we needed a writer like Ngugi.