Christopher Abani (or Chris Abani) (born 27 December 1966) is a Nigerian author. He is part of a new generation of Nigerian writers working to convey to an English-speaking audience the experience of those born and raised in "that troubled African nation".
He published his first novel, Masters of the Board (1985) at the age of sixteen. The plot was a political thriller and it was an allegory for a coup that was carried out in Nigeria just before it was written. He was imprisoned for 6 months on suspicion of an attempt to overthrow the government. He continued to write after his release from jail, but was imprisoned for one year after the publication of his novel, Sirocco. (1987). After he was released from jail this time, he composed several anti-government plays that were performed on the street near government offices for two years. He was imprisoned a third time and was placed on death row. Luckily, his friends had bribed government officials for his release in 1991, and immediately Abani moved to the United Kingdom, living there until 1999. He then moved to the United States, where he now lives.
Education and career
Abani holds a BA in English (Nigeria), an MA in Gender and Culture (Birkbeck College, University of London), an MA in English and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing (University of Southern California).
He was a Professor at the University of California, Riverside and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the 2001 Prince Claus Awards, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Selections of his poetry appear in the online journal Blackbird. He is currently a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.
His book of poetry, Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), is a sequence of linked poems, bringing together religious ritual, the Igbo language of his Nigerian homeland, and reggae rhythms in a postracial, liturgical love song.
Abani's foray into publishing has led to the formation of the Black Goat poetry series, which is an imprint of New York-based Akashic Books. Poets Kwame Dawes, Christina Garcia, Kate Durbin, Karen Harryman, Uche Nduka, Percival Everett, Khadijah Queen and Gabriela Jauregui have all been published by Black Goat.
Abani's experiences in prison were the subject of his book Kalakuta Republic published in 2001 which his publishers described as “a powerful collection of poems detailing the harrowing experiences endured by Abani and others at the hands of Nigeria's military regime in the late 1980s". The aforementioned experiences are however the subject of continuing controversy. Several Nigerian writers and bloggers have disputed his imprisonment, his claim of being sentenced to death, and the very gruesome details in the book about a fourteen year old who was supposedly murdered by the military regime by nailing his penis to a table until he bled to death. The writers claim none of these ever happened as there is no record anywhere that Abani was imprisoned. They accused him of deliberately lying in order to advance his career. Abani has so far failed to come up with any evidence of his imprisonment, or name any living inmate he shared the same prison with in any of his three 'incarcerations'.
- The Virgin of Flames (Penguin, 2007)
- GraceLand (FSG, 2004/Picador 2005)
- Masters of the Board (Delta, 1985)
- Becoming Abigail (Akashic Books, 2006)
- Song For Night (Akashic Books, 2007)
- Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)
- Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
- Dog Woman (Red Hen Press, 2004)
- Daphne's Lot (Red Hen Press, 2003)
- Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001).
Honors and awards
- Winner, PEN Beyond the Margins Award (now renamed PEN Open Book Award) for Song For Night.
- Nominated for Lamada Award (The Virgin of Flames)
- Recipient, Distinguished Humanist Award (UC, Riverside)
- 2007 Pushcart Nomination for Sanctificum (poetry)
- New York Times Editor's Choice (Song for Night)
- Finalist, PEN Beyond the Margins Award (Becoming Abigail)
- A Barnes & Noble Discovery Selection (The Virgin of Flames)
- A New York Times Editor's Choice (The Virgin of Flames)
- A New York Libraries Books For Teens Selection (Becoming Abigail)
- A New York Times Editor's Choice (Becoming Abigail)
- A Chicago Reader Critic's Choice (Becoming Abigail)
- A selection of the Essence Magazine Book Club (Becoming Abigail)
- A selection of the Black Expressions Book Club (Becoming Abigail)
- Pushcart Nomination (poetry) (A Way To Turn This To Light)
- Shortlisted for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (GraceLand).
- Winner, Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. (GraceLand)
- Winner, Hurston-Wright Legacy Award (GraceLand)
- Silver Medal, California Book Award for Fiction (GraceLand)
- Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (GraceLand)
- Finalist, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Best Books (Africa Region)(GraceLand)
- Pushcart Nomination for Blooding. StoryQuarterly.
- Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, USA
- Hellman/Hammet Grant from Human Rights Watch, USA.
- Imbongi Yesizwe Poetry International Award, South Africa.
- PEN USA West Freedom-to-Write Award, USA.
- Prince Claus Awards.
- Middleton Fellowship, University of Southern California, USA
- Timberg, Scott (February 18, 2007). "Living in the `perfect metaphor'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-01-25. "But amu even before he became one of the rare Africans in the Phoenix Inn and one of the few blacks living in East L.A., Abani was what he calls "an outsider's outsider". He grew up in small Nigerian cities, the son of an Igbo educator father and a white English-born mother who had met at Oxford, where she was a secretary and he was a post-doc student. Raised Roman Catholic, Abani studied in the seminary as a teenager."
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Chris Abani|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chris Abani.|
- Official Website
- The Chris Abani Bibliography
- Poems in Blackbird
- Poems in Narrative Magazine
- Biography from the International Literature Festival Berlin
- TED Talks: Chris Abani on the stories of Africa at TED Global in 2007
- TED Talks: Chris Abani muses on humanity at TED in 2008