The Department of Literature dates back to 1956, during the days of the then Technical Royal College. In those days, it was called the Department of English. Taban Lo Liyong, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Peter Awuor Anyumba revolutionized the teaching of Literature on the continent, when they led their African colleagues in demanding a change in the teaching of Literature in the Department which was then called the English Department. This demand was based on the fact that although the Department taught Literature in the English language, it paid little attention to African literature. This demand was also an argument against the colonizing tendencies that such an Anglo-centric curriculum carried. When eventually the Department was renamed as The Department of Literature, it set the pace for the recognition and study of African literature within Faculties of Arts across Africa, and the rest of the world. The new department incorporated the Sub-Department of French. The Sub-Department of French was mandated to teach French and Literature in French, while the parent Department was commissioned to teach literature in English.
The two sections of the Department, each headed by different chairpersons, are treated as autonomous academic entities. The combined department, however, operates one financial vote and has a teaching staff of 29, non-teaching staff of six and a student population that sometimes soars to about 900. The latter number includes postgraduate students.
The parent department has two programmes: Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education. Further, it publishes two literary journals: a creative one called Mwangaza (ISSN 1814-2753) and a scholarly one called The Nairobi journal of Literature (ISSN 1814-1706).
Department of Literature: Chairpersons from 1967 to 2013