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PEN Case (1968): Rajat Neogy – Uganda, Imprisoned


Rajat Neogy was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1938.  He studied in London and returned to found and edit the literary and cultural magazine Transitions in 1961. The publication’s primary aim and function were to ‘discuss matters of African relevance in an African context’.  Writers such as Paul Theroux and Wole Soyinka were often featured and Neogy himself contributed poems and essays to the magazine. 

In 1968 Neogy was arrested and charged with sedition after articles critical of the government were published in Transitions.  After a year and a half, he was acquitted of the charge and left Uganda to settle in Ghana, from where he continued to publish the magazine for two years.

In the early 1970s, Neogy left Africa and settled in San Francisco leaving Transitions in the hands of Wole Soyinka who wrote that after his detention “something had snapped in Rajat’s sensitive soul, like one who had looked into the heart of evil and found the harmony of existence permanently untuned.” 

In San Francisco Neogy founded a neighbourhood newspaper that ceased publication after a brief period. Later, his health declined and he died in San Francisco in December 1995, aged 57.

In an obituary in the UK Independent, author and friend, Paul Theroux wrote: It is hard to imagine a little magazine that influenced writers on a whole vast continent, but that is what happened with Transition. Neogy began his magazine at just the right time and it became a rallying point throughout the 1960s. … We did not really know what would happen. You never do. But it got worse, many of us left. Neogy stayed and got thrown into jail for sedition – criticising the Ugandan government, something he had been doing for years. His detention in prison might have broken him. Or was it disillusionment?” (Full text of obituary below)

Writing Sample

Magazines are also like cultures: they are do- or don’t-magazines; they are progressive, conservative, radical, puritanical, slow moving, or vigorous. At their most aware, they reflect the qualities or weaknesses of their societies; at their blindest, they are showcases for the imbecilities of their editors. One cannot ever remove the personal factor when discussing magazines. They are physically and finally the products of their editors. There are very few other activities (excluding filmmaking) which involve the collaboration of so many diverse talents, but in which the success or failure of the end-product can be laid at one door: the editor’s.

Literary magazines in Africa are faced with burdens and responsibilities that their counterparts in other countries do not have to shoulder. On the one hand, they are meant to be alive, alert, gay, and (we hope) sometimes frivolous, casually and uninhibitedly recording the lyricisms and laments of their times. On the other hand, like the eldest son of a family where the father has suddenly died, they have to show maturity and responsibility. This responsibility is in the area of publishing that might be loosely termed “documentation.” The literary magazine in Africa has a responsibility to record what has previously gone unnoticed. It has to print what was previously only spoken. Obvious examples would be the transcription of folk songs and myths. It has therefore the dual role of conserver as well as initiator in the cultural context of the country in which it is operating.

Do Magazines Culture? in Transition, No. 75/76, The Anniversary Issue: Selections from Transition, 1961-1976 (1997), pp. 16-22 Published by: Indiana University Press on behalf of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute

Useful links

Article on Rajat Neogy’s founding of Transitions:;

Article on the life of Rajat Neogy:

Obituary by Paul Theroux, Independent, 1995: