Open letter to Ngugi wa Thiongo
When did I start reading you? I believe it was after I wrote She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks because I know that when I began to read you, there was a sense of recognition. Although, looking at the date of publication Decolonizing the Mind was published two years before She Tries… in 1986. Why do I say recognition when there was so much to learn from what you had to say? I say recognition because She Tries… had taken me some way to understanding the “politics of language,” however the roots of recognition is to know something again, although we may be meeting it for the first time. When I read what you had to say, I knew it for the first time and yet recognised it. I recall excited discussions about your being about to stop writing in english. It was a revolutionary act, especially for those of us who had no other language to turn to. I wished, indeed, still wish that I had that luxury— to write in an Other language— a language other than english; “this/ fuck-mother motherfuckin- this/ holy-white-father-in-heaven-this/ ai! ai! /tongue.” This primal wound that will not heal, and no possibility to maroon myself linguistically. It interests —and perplexes— me that not many have followed the path you took.
Would I still feel stranger if I were to learn an African tongue.
As I write tears prickle— well up.
I cannot write a scholarly or academic essay about what your thinking has meant to my writing and thinking life. It calls for another language… or even an Other tongue.
And the wound heals from the inside out. Always.
In the alchemy of history are we the nigredo trans(trash)substantiating into then and now
translated from we into they
whitened faces history’s floating pieces
“Can I eat it?” she says, on seeing the red earth of Africa
She wants to eat the earth
He, the Ancestor wants
to return and turn and return to the land redolent with i lose
we lose found—
He wants to eat the earth
i find you in the red so red
earth — the am in i and the i in am you
How would one—you— say that in Kikuyu?
Google translate does not provide translations into or from Kikuyu! There is Swahili, though.
Why a letter? I’ve often wondered whether it would have made a difference if we’d been able to write letters “back home” to those in Africa, telling them what was happening. This side of the Atlantic. During the Maafa —a Swahili word that comes from your region of Africa. Naming that which resists naming. In English. Would it have? Made a difference? Letters are anticipatory, aren’t they, filled as they are with possibility. How will the recipient receive what I have to say? They may choose to not even open it, as I have done with letters whose contents I fear. They may open it and decide not to respond; they may open it and, even more frighteningly sometimes, choose to respond.
This letter does not anticipate a response—perhaps it doesn’t even qualify as a letter; it is, rather, a vehicle to talk to express what your work has meant to my thinking and to my own work—