Decolonizing the American University – African Writers in Conversation Series



On March 17, 2021 distinguished Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gave a lecture on ‘Decolonizing the American University’ as part of the African Writers in Conversation Series. The event was sponsored by the Yale MacMillan Center’s Council on African Studies, the Yale English Department, the Belo-Osagie Fund, the Yale Africa Initiative, Belonging at Yale, the Office of the Dean of Humanities, and the Charles G. Trumbull Endowed Lectureship Fund. 

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has been theorizing and practicing decolonization for decades. In his 1986 critically acclaimed book, Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Ngũgĩ offered a critical perspective on how language can be both a tool of colonial oppression and a means through which Africans can break the shackles of imperial bondage. To illustrate the urgency of preserving and elevating African languages, Ngũgĩ has stopped publishing works in English, choosing instead to write in his native language, Gĩkũyũ. Professor Ngũgĩ’s critical approach to thinking and practicing decolonization was the subject of his talk for the Council on African Studies on March 17, 2021.

The talk, titled ‘Decolonizing the American University’ is part of the African Writers in Conversation series organized by English Professor, Stephanie Newell. The conversation with Ngũgĩ was moderated by Professor Newell and Ciru Wainaina, a Ph.D. student in the department of English. The event attracted wide-ranging interest with registrants signing up from across the globe. Given the anticipated large attendance, guests were encouraged to submit questions for Professor Ngũgĩ at registration.

Recent conversations about the role various institutions have played in slavery and colonialism has brought renewed attention to how universities have been implicated in these processes. The conversation with Professor Ngũgĩ generated rich and dynamic conversations about what it means to be committed to the practice of decolonization in the context of American universities given these difficult and complex histories.