February 14, 2011

Somali novelist to receive honorary degree

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee today (Feb. 14) approved an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for Nuruddin Farah, an internationally recognized Somali novelist.

The full board will be asked to ratify the action at its regular meeting in April.

Farah will receive his honor during the May commencement ceremonies for the College of Liberal Arts.

Farah was born in 1945 in then British-occupied Italian Somaliland, now a part of the Republic of Somalia. His father was a farmer and his mother a poet in the oral tradition. Farah was one of 11 children.

Farah is fluent in five languages but writes in English, partly because the Somali language did not have a written form until 1972. He wrote a novel in Somali in 1973, and a Somali newspaper serialized several chapters until publication was halted as a result of government censorship.

Farah’s first novel, “From a Crooked Rib,” published in 1970, gained him international attention for its strong critique of the repression experienced by women in Somali society. That novel won Farah praise from 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient Doris Lessing, who said that he is “one of the few African men who write wonderfully about women.”

Farah’s next novel, “A Naked Needle,” published in 1976, raised the wrath of then Somali dictator Siad Barre. Farah, learning he might be arrested because of the book, went into exile for 22 years. During that time, he taught in the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Sudan, India and Nigeria. He lives now in Cape Town, South Africa. He has returned several times to Somalia since the overthrow of the Barre regime in 1991.

His novels continue to grapple with the social and political problems facing his people in Somalia. He is the author of “Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship,” a trilogy published 1979-1983, the “Blood in the Sun” trilogy (1986-1998), “Territories,” (2000), “Yesterday, Tomorrow: Voices from the Somali Diaspora,” (2000), and several other novels.

Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, now Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, said of Farah: “Nuruddin Farah questions all the oppressive stabilities, whether rooted in the family, the clan, the nation, or in the supranational claims of religion and political systems. He is a Somali writer, an African writer, an important voice in postcolonial modernism, and speaks to our age in a very compelling prose.”

Farah is the recipient of many international awards, including the Premio Cavour in Italy, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize in Sweden, the Lettre Ulysses Award in Berlin, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He is a past nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.