Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Distinguished Professor of comparative literature and English at the University of California, Irvine, recently received an honorary degree from Yale University. Bestowed by Yale President Peter Salovey, the honorary degree celebrates those with distinction in their respective fields. Ngugi was one of eight recipients, including Marin Alsop, Jessie Little Doe Baird, Cornelia Bargmann, Irwin Jacobs, John Kerry, John R. Lewis, and Stevie Wonder.

Of Ngugi, Yale President Salovey said, “Author, playwright, activist, and scholar, you have shown us the power of words to change the world. You have written in English and in your Kenyan language, Gikuyu; you have worked in prison cells and in exile; and you have survived assassination attempts — all to bring attention to the plight of ordinary people in Kenya and around the world. Brave wordsmith, for breaking down barriers, for showing us the potential of literature to incite change and promote justice, for helping us decolonize our minds and open them to new ideas, we are privileged to award you this degree of Doctor of Letters.”

“The Yale that I came to love (1989-1992) held a key to knowledge, but knowledge for which we still have to strive,” said Ngugi. “It was so for me.  It is so for the present company. And it is so for the hundreds who are graduating this week, and for those who will follow them in years to come. This key to knowledge is also key to dreams.”

Ngugi, whose name is pronounced “Googy” and means “work,” is a prolific writer of novels, plays and essays, many skewering the harsh sociopolitical conditions of his homeland, Kenya. Forced into exile in 1982, Ngugi has since held faculty positions at several U.S. institutions of higher education, including Yale University and New York University. He was recruited to UCI in 2002 to teach literature and direct the International Center for Writing & Translation.

“We never cease to be proud of Ngugi, whose masterful works remind us of the indomitable power of the human spirit,” said Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the UCI School of Humanities. “We congratulate him on receiving an honorary degree from Yale University, a testament to his continuous and meaningful impact abroad and here in the U.S.”

Ngugi is the author of more than 20 plays and novels, including, Weep Not, Child (1964), the first East African novel published in English, Wizard of the Crow (2006), an English translation of the Gikuyu language novel, Murogi wa Kagogo, Dreams in a Time of War (2010) and In the House of the Interpreter (2012), which was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. Ngugi’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages and they continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs, and dissertations.

Ngugi’s short story, “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright,” has been published in English for the first time and published in UCI Magazine’s spring edition here.