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January 2019
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When Belinda Met Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Giving The Keynote Speech At The Silver Jubilee Celebration Of Wasafiri. Image by Graham Fudger

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Giving The Keynote Speech At The Silver Jubilee Celebration Of Wasafiri. Image by Graham Fudger

Belinda: In the last 25 years, how significant a literary publication is Wasafiri to today’s international literary landscape?

Ngugi: I would say the most important thing about Wasafiri though I can’t comment on every article that is published in there but it is that it is giving visibility to writings from different parts although largely in English, but visibility is important. Visibility to writers from India, from Africa and other places, it is enabling a dialogue from different writers which is important. From India, Africa and the Caribbean which is very important.

Belinda: As an African writer, well renowned for your work, has it succeeded in the goal of bringing everybody to the forefront or do you think there is still a long way to go?

Ngugi: Generally, of course there is still a long way to go because we need more conversations among writings of different communities but obviously for Africa and even Asia for that matter, our base is our languages and we want visibility without becoming invisible in our languages. At present we are very visible by being invisible in our own language. So how can we be visible in such a way that becoming visible in English does not necessarily mean becoming invisible in one’s own language and culture? And that is why I feel that Wasafiri can also do a bit more in enabling visibility through translations for a writer who writes in Yoruba and feels that if I write in Yoruba, nobody knows me and I am not invited to conferences. But journals like this can also make a commission to translations and if they are good translations, from Yoruba to Swahili to Gujarati, the best writings in those languages even if they do them in English through translation, it encourages the writer who will then say even though I write in Yoruba, I can still be seen and heard elsewhere. I think that is what we need now more than anything else. But Wasafiri, the distance that it travels is very good. You know, it is very difficult in any language to sustain a literary journal for 25 years regularly is very difficult. So, by lasting 25 years, it is a big, big achievement.

Belinda: Apart from translations, in what other ways can it begin to bring writers to the forefront of the literary scene?

Ngugi: Wasafiri now has two legs; one leg is making a journal and making it come out regularly as it has done to done. Now Wasafiri can stretch a bit further and it can also organise…it can say one day let’s get these writers who write in Yoruba over here for three days, you know, a first in a festival of language conference over here in London. It would make a huge difference to somebody who has been writing in Angola to feel oh, so, I am also known, I can be known. Those are the kind of things I believe it can also have. I am not saying it should abandon English language as a base because it’s a base but how can you use that base to enable others? And I don’t think that it is necessary that you publish in Yoruba but give voices in Yoruba visibility in the journal.

Belinda: Is there anything that you would like to see in Wasafiri from a writer’s perspective that you are yet to see in the journal?

Ngugi: I think if they keep going the way that they are going, branch out more and reach out more. The only area that they can do more in is the area of translations. That’s really one area which they have to move since their name is Wasafiri, a Swahili name that gives homage to African languages, I think it can do more and open up the space to translations

Belinda: Of course, it is 25 years old and doing my research, I saw that you were one of the very first contributors. In what ways, apart from bringing writers to the forefront, in what ways has it had an impact and changed the way the international publishing industry, the UK and other parts of the world?

Ngugi: honestly, it has helped the literary landscape since 1984 and now and I am not saying its only Wasafiri but all these young writers like yourself who are writing now, there is a confidence in crossing cultures that is actually very much there and I don’t there was much of that in our time. We had other strengths but not in crossing culture the way it is now. In Wasafiri, now, you can read work by an Indian writer or writing from the Caribbean and that is important. Another thing is the impact of a journal like Wasafiri is not visible immediately. It goes on working on people. It is not like being a mechanic where you say I did this and this happened but in the long run, it begins to make an impact.

Belinda: Finally, those of us who are literature lovers, how do you think it has also impacted on the reading habits of literature lovers?

Ngugi: Well, the only thing I can say is that people are reading Wasafiri more and more. At the beginning it was not known but Wasafiri is growing and that means there must be readers who read it. All you have to do is look at it, where it has come from and where it is at now, that is how you measure success.

Belinda: And your forthcoming book

Ngugi: It is called ‘Dreams In A Time of War’ and it should come out I hope it comes out in April next year.


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