Ngugi has just returned from traveling, but was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work, his ideas, and Wizard of the Crow:
Q: How did you settle on the structure and design of Wizard of the Crow? It is such a large, rich, all-encompassing book ... how did you decide what to put in, what to leave out, and which characters' stories to tell at particular times?
Ngugi: The writing of Wizard of the Crow was more of a possession than conscious plotting. The structure developed with the story. As they dawned on me, many incidents were a surprise to me too, often eliciting laughter. However editing later does allow for reduction of redundancies.
Q: Much has changed in Kenya, in Africa, in the world since you began work on Wizard of the Crow -- did those changes affect how the book progressed when you wrote it or translated it?
Ngugi: No, no, because the essence of globalization within Africa and between Africa and the West remains the same despite surface changes. That is why I call it a global epic from Africa.
Q: What are the attractions for you of myth and fantasy in storytelling? Is there a difference between how such things are used in orature versus literature?
Ngugi: I am fascinated by how myths are made and how they grow. A person witnesses an event, say a car accident. In order to to convey the essence and reality of the horror to another who was not present, he exaggerates. The recipient of the slightly exaggerated adds his own exggeration when telling the story to somebody else. And soon the story becomes almost larger than the actual event but it retains the essential truth.
Q: Has your approach to translating your work from Gikuyu to English changed since Devil on the Cross?
Ngugi: Slightly. In Devil on the Cross I tried to stay fairly close to the sytanx of the original, or rather tried to capture the feel of the original syntax. In Wizard of the Crow, I just tried to capture the imagery, rhythm, and spirit of the original story.
Q: You have in the past noted the importance of translation between African languages (e.g. from Gikuyu to Kiswahili and vice versa). Is such translation happening now? Is its importance the same?
Ngugi: Yes, I believe there should be more translations between African languages and also between African languages and those of Asia, Latin America, Native America. Unfortunately, not much is happening in that area.
Q: Who are writers whose work you would like to see gain a larger audience?
Ngugi: I would like to see more translations from works written in the original languages of Asia, Africa, Native South American and Native America. I am always curious as to what treasures are hidden in those languages.
Q: You have studied film and made films, and I'm curious if any films recently have captured your attention, either for better or worse.
Ngugi: I recently saw The Last King of Scotland and I was very impressed by the story and the acting. I thought it captured the horror of the Idi Amn dictatorship quite well. But they could have shown a bit more of its linkages to the West.