Prof Micere Mugo pens her last life at 80

 Prof Micere Mugo Githae

 Prof Micere Mugo Githae delivering her speech after receiving Munir Mazrui 2022 Lifetime Award at Kenya National Theatre on January 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

The literature world has been thrown into mourning following the Friday June 30 demise of Prof Micere Githae Mugo, 80, profiled distinguished playwright, poet, author, activist, and literary critic.

Family sources confirmed that she died in the United States after a long illness.

Her younger brother who is former Ndia MP, Robinson Njeru Githae, (now Austria envoy) said "it is well with our souls, travel well my sister...our pride".

Before she wrote and spoke her way into the bad books of power, she had in 1980 become the first woman in the country to be appointed dean of an academic faculty. That was when she briefly served as dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nairobi.

John Kiriamiti who is a local author famed for the My Life in Crime novela mourned the death as "catastrophic for the wordsmith's world, a happening that if protests could revert we would pour into the streets to demand her life back".

Mr Kiriamiti remembered the deceased for the "best quote of her lifetime according to my passions where she said writing can be a lifeline, especially when your existence has been denied, especially when you have been left on the margins, especially when your life and process of growth have been subjected to attempts at strangulation". Mr Kiriamiti wrote his novel while in prison for robbery with violence.

Prof Ngugi Thiong'o mourned her as a self-made accomplished scholar, Africanist, literary critic and undistracted campaigner for social justice who in 2021, the Royal African Society honoured with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

But death is silly, stubborn like a mule, and in the fullness of time Prof Micere will be seen no more, but her strong legacy lives on.

Kirinyaga County Jubilee Party Chairman Muriithi Kang'ara said "Kirinyaga is mourning one of our finest minds, a daughter who put our rice-growing County on the international map for her literary perfections."

"We remain proud as a county that our village produced such a refined literally jewel...and we would have loved to see more of her coming to give back to the society...but travel well."

Prof Micere is profiled to have honed her performing arts interests at Embu Girls’ Intermediate School from 1952 to 1956 before proceeding to the Alliance Girls’ High School.

Born in 1942 in Baricho village, she was to become the first scholar from East Africa to receive a doctorate in literature, her specialty being poetry and drama that invested heavily on African oral storytelling traditions.

She attended Makerere University in Uganda, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1966 before moving to the University of New Brunswick, Canada for her Master’s degree in literature in 1973 and a PhD.

Her doctoral thesis titled - Visions of Africa (1978) - made her known for her continental activism where she 'incited' fellow female novelists to rise up and present the heartbeat of Africa.

She was rated among the top 100 personalities who greatly influenced Kenya in the 20th century.

Together with Prof Thiong'o, they, in 1974, coauthored a play titled The Trial of Dedan Kimathi igniting raw emotions on the vagaries of independence strife, betrayals and lost dreams for a man who lost his life fighting for self-rule.

Prof Micere was to transform herself into a solo army armed with a pen. For her boldness in agitating for political equity and sanity, she was branded by the Daniel Moi regime as a dangerous firebrand political activist.

"Her unflinching demand that human rights abuses by the government of Moi were unpalatable in a swiftly changing world of civility, she was eventually forced into exile in 1982," said Nakuru politician, Koigi wa Mwere who at the time was also building himself as a post-independence soldier for democracy, good governance and a dignified country of equal opportunities.

She was stripped of her Kenyan citizenship but was adopted by Zimbabwe which took her in as a registered citizen.

In exile, Prof Mugo who is a mother of two daughters first taught at the University of Zimbabwe, where she met another writer from Ghana-- Ama Ata Aidoo--whom she rated as her inspiration and mentor, a true North.

In a possible classic case of misery loving company, Aidoo who had won the tag of grand lady of Ghanaian letters,  died on May 31--a month before Prof Mugo also passed.

Her other declared iconic influences in her literal life were Sierra Leonean scholar Eldred Durosimi Jones, the pioneering Nigerian playwright Flora Nwapa, Kenya’s first published female anglophone author Ms Grace Ogot and the Ugandan poet-anthropologist Okot p’Bitek.

Chinua Achebe was another influence in her life and in an interview with Amazon Influencers in 2009, she said Achebe encouraged her in 1976 to publish the first collections of her poems-- Daughter of My People, Sing!

She later moved to the United States where she was to be appointed a professor emerita in the Department of African American Studies at Syracruse University, New York State, in 1993.

She retired from academia in 2015 and had since been living a low-key life only to break the internet on Friday following her demise.

Her collection of awards includes a doctorate in letters from the University of Nairobi, the Flora Nwapa Award for Writing Excellence and the Distinguished Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Award from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

She also received the Distinguished Africanist Award and the Nelson Mandela Leadership Award.

In her lifetime, she lives behind traditional African, Pan African and feminist-inclined works that draw heavily upon indigenous African cultural traditions.

Some of her works include The Long Illness of Ex-Chief Kiti (1976), The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976), Daughter of My People, Sing! (1976), My Mother's Song and Other Poems (1994), Visions of Africa (1978), African Orature and Human Rights (1991), The imperative of Utu/Ubuntu in Africana scholarship (2021) and Writing & Speaking from the Heart of My Mind.

She joins her husband Dr John Njuguna Mugo--a cousin to former President Uhuru Kenyatta and brother to veteran politician Beth Mugo-- in the world of spirits after he died on February 17, 2020.

The late Mugo was formerly of The Department of Biochemistry Chiromo Campus University of Nairobi. Their daughter Njeri Mugo died in 2012 and they are now survived by one daughter -- Mumbi Mugo.