Michael Slate Interviews Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o at private fundraising party for the Dialogue

November 11, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, novelist, playwright and theorist on art, revolution and decolonization, offered to be interviewed by Michael Slate, Revolution/revcom.us writer and radio journalist, at a private fundraising party for the Cornel West/Bob Avakian Dialogue. The event was held at the home of David Zeiger, the award-winning filmmaker of Sir! No Sir!, a film about GI resistance during the Vietnam War.

We had a little less than two weeks to get the word out. People were asked to contribute $100 and we reached out to people who could afford to donate much more. There were worries that we did not have enough time to get people there. But we talked, and knowing that the big event would be happening in New York City the week after, we all agreed to go for it. Hundreds of people were contacted in a very short period of time.

It was a small and beautiful event. Five people attended, drawn by the chance to hear one of the most important authors from Africa speaking to raise the funds needed to get many people to NYC on the November 15. One person came because they received a call from another documentary filmmaker saying that he had to be there. They were working on human rights issues related to the persecution of gays and lesbians in Uganda, fueled by U.S.-funded Christian fascists working in NGOs there. Another person came with funds she had raised from friends who could not attend, but who were moved by this event to contribute; she brought a friend who teaches film at a local college. An ex-prisoner, who came to know Bob Avakian's work while in prison, attended the event and shared his thoughts with Ngũgĩ, who spoke about his time in prison as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. A man who had worked in Kenya and had also contributed to getting the mother of a prisoner to the NYC event, came to the house party as well. A prominent actor wrote that they could not attend but would make a contribution, and two very prominent artists wrote that they were interested in this event and in the Revolution and Religion Dialogue.

At the event, people were able to listen to an hour-and-a-half interview of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o by Michael Slate that talked about the role of art in human society, and then in relationship to revolution. Ngũgĩ was imprisoned by the Kenyan government for the staging of the play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want). It was written in the indigenous language of the people instead of in English and brought people who had been robbed of their culture by decades of brutal colonization into the process of creating the play and staging it in a theater they built in a rural town. He spoke about what his plays and novels brought to the lives of people and his appreciation for the people who took his works and transformed them into something much bigger than he could ever have imagined. He talked about the swirl of ideas that impacted the movement in Kenya—some coming from books that escaped the censors from as far away as the U.S. He also spoke deeply to the way that art is to imagination and the human spirit, what food is to the body, and that the very use of the language of the people was such a threat to the imperialists and those who served them in the Kenyan government. The play was shut down and the theater was razed. Ngũgĩ was arrested and sent to a maximum security prison for a year, where he wrote his next novel on prison toilet paper.

People walked away from the event very moved and inspired. $600 was raised. The whole rich content of the interview provided the perfect segue to let people know about the important event the following weekend in NYC, and where their funds would go. An announcement about the fundraising efforts by those in Ferguson—encouraging people to attend the simulcast of the event in Los Angeles and to support the national efforts to fill the house in NYC—ended the event.

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