An author renowned for writing in both English and his native African language came to UCSB Thursday to discuss the impact of language on the changing world order.

A crowd of about 100 people at Girvetz Theater heard Ngugi wa Thiong’o give a lecture titled, “Moving the Center: Language, Culture and Globalization.” Ngugi called the widening gap between rich and poor “the main characteristic of globalization.” He focused on the “marginalization” of nearly every global language in favor of a handful of “dominant” languages such as English and French.

Ngugi has written four novels, including 1978’s Petals of Blood. His critical works include Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in Africa, which he wrote in 1986 to encourage African writers to write in their native languages rather than seeking wider distribution by writing in dominant languages.

The lecture was part of a series titled “America and the Reshaping of a New World Order.” In his introduction for Ngugi, English Professor Giles Gunn said the purpose of the series is to analyze “America’s right and/or responsibility to reshape the world order in accordance with its own ideologies and values.”

Ngugi was born in Kenya in 1938 and was imprisoned there in 1977. He said he was placed in a maximum-security prison without trial after helping with theater productions using native Kenyan languages while he was working at the University of Nairobi as an English lecturer. Amnesty International helped force his release after a year. He moved to Britain in 1982, then to the United States in 1989.

“We felt it was important to get someone who comes from a continent that has felt the awesome power of imperialist redrawing,” Gunn said.

Much of the lecture dealt with Africa and the challenges many nations have faced in the years since colonialism.

“Globalization has weakened the post-colonial state to the point where the states are too weak to interfere with the operations of international finance, so those finances can come and go at will,” Ngugi said. “Outside, non-governmental organizations begin operating as modern-day missionaries, secular missionaries, that become parallel states not beholden to the state itself.”

The lecture’s title referred to Ngugi’s idea that global power was becoming centralized along with language.

“The world is rapidly being remade in the image of the middle class of the West,” he said.

Ngugi said it was up to “African producers of knowledge” to maintain the relevance of their native tongues and keep world power balanced.

“They must keep up the ongoing struggle to create many centers of influence, in a dance of continuous reciprocity, rather than one supercenter,” he said.

Audience reaction to the lecture was mixed.

“I thought it was interesting,” senior English major Bill Bach said. “You hear a lot about how America and the West is exerting influence, but I haven’t heard of anyone looking at it from this perspective.”

Other audience members had trouble with Ngugi’s lecture style.

“There was something about the way he made his points,” senior English major Matt Abrams said. “For long stretches I had no idea what he was talking about.”

The “America and the Reshaping of a New World Order” series is co-sponsored by the English Dept.’s American Cultures and Global Contexts Center and the Program in Global and International Studies.