UC Riverside

Chris Abani

Chris Abani

Telling the Stories of a Lifetime

As a teenager in Nigeria, Chris Abani earned a little too much attention for the publication Masters of the Board, a thriller whose plotline about a military coup triggered paranoia in his country's political dictatorship. Abani's creativity combined with his college activism resulted in prison sentences from his government, sometimes in solitary confinement.

A collection of poems that grew out of that experience, Kalakuta Republic (2000), was described as "the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture imaginable," by playwright Harold Pinter. "Reading them is like being singed with a red hot iron."

Now a professor at UC Riverside, Abani writes about the people of his home country, and those of his adopted country, winning literary awards like the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for his debut American novel, GraceLand (2005). He is also the author of The Virgin of Flames (2007), Masters of the Board (1985) and Becoming Abigail (2006) and five collections of poetry. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN Beyond Margins Award, the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award and a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

In a book-length sequence of linked poems, Sanctificum (2010), Abani creates a post-racial, liturgical love song that covers the globe from Abuja to Los Angeles. Utilizing religious ritual, the Nigerian Igbo language and reggae rhythms, this is one of his most personal and ambitious books.

His award-winning novella, Song for Night (2007) is the story of a West African boy soldier whose vocal chords have been cut and his search for his lost platoon. "Even though it is a difficult book about a boy soldier in a West African war, it is really a book about hope, about love and the possibility for true transformation. I hope readers see that. That happiness is learning to live with difficulty and grace."

See Abani's profile on the creative writing website.

Read about Abani's Guggenheim Award

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