I was transitioning into teaching literature as opposed to history; the international schools I worked in now wouldn’t tolerate the radical curriculum on which I had based my social studies classes in Oakland. Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross, and before that Petals of Blood, confirmed that literature could and should engage directly with politics and critical theory, could reach beyond those limited vocabularies to something even more true and complex. Politically engaged literature could transcend language and idea and become activism. Maybe I knew that on some level already, but not the way I knew it after reading Devil on the Cross.
I’ve taught it every year since, and I rediscover that every time I teach it, and that discovery, in turn, makes me want to write. Ngugi wrote Devil on a Cross in Gikuyu, and then translated it, and the swooping lyricism of those sentences, the new logic of them, didn’t just make me see the world differently, it made me think differently. So have Ngugi’s essays and plays, and the world of African literature, especially the women writers — Amma Darko, Fatou Diame, Lola Shoneyin, Neshani Andreas, Nadifa Mohamed, Calixthe Beyala, Nnedi Okorafor, Léanora Miono among them — to which his novels led. So many books have shaped my consciousness, but Ngugi opened a portal to an internationalism that I cannot now imagine myself without.
Sarah Fuchs is working on her first novel, and was an Emerging Writer Fellow at Aspen Words in 2017. She taught middle and high school English and Humanities for eighteen years in Oakland, Accra, Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Lomé, Togo, and co-founded the School for Social Justice and Community Development in Oakland, CA. A graduate of the NYU Writers Workshop in Paris, she is the 2016-2017 Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
What book has made you see the world differently?
Aspen Words and the Aspen Institute will be sharing responses to this question – from acclaimed authors, emerging writers, and others involved with our programs – over the coming weeks and months. With these messages, we hope to create a virtual library of books that expand our perspectives and move the cultural dialogue forward, underscoring the mission of the Aspen Words Literary Prize.
On Twitter, share the titles of the books that have shaped your worldview and use the hashtag #AspenLitPrize and tag @AspenWords. Tag us on Facebook, and share with us the name of a book that has made you see the world differently and why.Tags: Ngugi, Reading, Sarah Fuchs, social justice
This post was written by Caroline Tory