UCI News

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o elected AAAS fellow

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, UC Irvine Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature, has been named a 2014 fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

April 23, 2014

Irvine, Calif., April 23, 2014 – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, UC Irvine Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature, has been named a 2014 fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Ngũgĩ is among 204 new fellows and 16 new foreign honorary members elected to AAAS this year. The 234-year-old academy is one of the nation’s most select societies and includes scholars, scientists and business leaders. Members of the 2014 class include winners of the Nobel Prize and National Medal of Arts. Fellows and foreign honorary members are nominated and elected by current members.

“It is a privilege to honor these men and women for their extraordinary individual accomplishments,” said Don Randel, chair of the academy’s board of directors. “The knowledge and expertise of our members give the academy a unique capacity – and responsibility – to provide practical policy solutions to the pressing challenges of the day. We look forward to engaging our new members in this work.”

Ngũgĩ, whose name is pronounced “Googy” and means “work,” is a prolific writer of novels, plays and essays, many exploring the harsh sociopolitical conditions of his homeland. He came to UC Irvine in 2002 to teach literature and direct the then-new International Center for Writing & Translation. He is the author of the highly praised Wizard of the Crow, which won a 2006 California Book Awards gold medal for fiction. In 2010, he published Dreams in a Time of War, a memoir of his childhood in Kenya, which was followed in 2012 by In the House of the Interpreter, shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2013 he was awarded the UCI Medal, the highest honor conferred by the university.

Ngũgĩ taught literature at the University of Nairobi from 1967 until 1977, when he was arrested by state authorities because of his powerful anticorruption novel Petals of Blood. Imprisoned for a year without trial at the nation’s maximum security prison, Ngũgĩ wrote Devil on the Cross on toilet paper – the only medium available to him.

Released after Amnesty International identified him as a prisoner of conscience, Ngũgĩ fled Kenya in 1982. He has since held faculty positions at several U.S. institutions of higher education, including Yale University and New York University.

The academy will hold its induction ceremony Oct. 11 in Cambridge, Mass. The list of new members, which includes Chris Burden, a member of UC Irvine’s first master of fine arts graduating class in 1971, and actor Al Pacino, novelist John Irving and Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Ann Marie Lipinksi, is located at https://www.amacad.org/members.aspx

With the addition Ngũgĩ, there are 35 AAAS members affiliated with UCI including: John Avise, Francisco Ayala, Albert Bennett, Roy Britten, Thomas Carew,  Ralph J. Cicerone (chancellor emeritus), Michael Clegg, William Daughaday, Chancellor Michael Drake, Igor Dzyaloshinskii, David Easton, Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, Zachary Fisk, Steven Frank, Bernard Grofman, Daniel D. Joseph, Peter Li, Elizabeth Loftus, Penelope Maddy, David Malament, Shaul Mukamel, James McGaugh, Ricardo Miledi, J. Hillis Miller, Larry Overman, Jack Peltason (chancellor emeritus), Kenneth L. Pomeranz, Yvonne Rainer, A. Kimball Romney, Vicki Ruiz, Donald Saari, Brian Skyrms, Colin Slim and George Sperling.

About the University of California, Irvine: Located in coastal Orange County, near a thriving employment hub in one of the nation’s safest cities, UC Irvine was founded in 1965. One of only 62 members of the Association of American Universities, it’s ranked first among U.S. universities under 50 years old by the London-based Times Higher Education. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine has more than 28,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.3 billion annually to the local economy.

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