Unbowed (Paperback)

A Memoir

By Wangari Maathai

Anchor, 9780307275202, 368pp.

Publication Date: September 4, 2007

Other Editions of This Title:
Prebound (9/4/2007)
Hardcover (10/3/2006)
Paperback (3/1/2008)

List Price: 17.00*
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In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

About the Author

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940. She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which, through networks of rural women, has planted over 30 million trees across Kenya since 1977. In 2002, she was elected to Kenya's Parliament in the first free elections in a generation, and in 2003, she was appointed Deputy Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2004, she has three grown children and lives and works in Nairobi.

Praise For Unbowed: A Memoir

“Wangari Maathai’s memoir is direct, honest, and beautifully written—a gripping account of modern Africa’s trials and triumphs, a universal story of courage, persistence, and success against great odds in a noble cause.”  —President Bill Clinton

"Wangari Maathai is the rare leader who knows how to create independence, not dependence. On the page as in person, her example makes each of us a little stronger, wiser and braver than we ever thought we could be.”  —Gloria Steinem

“Compelling. . . . A striking reminder that the peace award, more than any other Nobel honor, recognizes success achieved through tremendous adversity.”  —The Seattle Times

“Inspirational. . . . Ms. Maathai will not be beaten down.” —The Economist

“[Maathai’s] story provides uplifting proof of the power of perseverance—and of the power of principled, passionate people to change their countries and inspire the world.”  —The Washington Post

Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. What aspects of her family life and her mother's approach to childrearing, as described in "Beginnings," might have nurtured Wangari's strong, forthright, and optimistic character? How powerful was the effect of cultivating the soil on her imagination as a child?
  2. How does Maathai react, upon arriving in America, to the presence of black Americans? What connection does she make between the legacy of slavery in America and the legacy of colonialism in Kenya? Is it surprising that, in the America of the early 1960s, she wasn't often the target of racism herself? Was there a similar color barrier in Kenya, prior to independence?
  3. Facing the difficulties of department politics at the university, Maathai writes, "I found myself wanting to be more than the equal of some of the men I knew. I had higher aspirations and did not want to be compared with men of lesser ability and capacity. I wanted to be me." How did her male colleagues at the university react to her ambition and energy?
  4. What is particularly African about Maathai's approach to the environment, and why does the erosion caused by increasing deforestation disturb her so much? Do you see the roots of her feeling for the environment in her childhood? What does the fig tree she loved as a child symbolize for her?
  5. How does Maathai come to realize that activism must be grounded in the community, and that communication must be at a level all members of the community can understand? Why is she so effective in reaching out to poor and illiterate rural women in the tree-planting program?
  6. Reflecting on her time in prison for treason, Maathai says, "As I sat in those cells, denying me the ability to control what happened seemed to me to be the greatest punishment the regime could mete out to me." Discuss the ways she responds to adversity and to the failure, at times, of her hopes. Which aspects of her character allow her to be so effective in fighting back against the corrupt government and encouraging others to insist upon their rights?