Ishmael Beah, 2007
November 23, 1980
Mogbwemo, Bonthe District, Sierra Leone
|Occupation||Author, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Children Affected by War, Human Rights Activist, former child soldier|
|Notable work(s)||A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Radiance Of Tomorrow, a novel|
Ishmael Beah (born on November 23, 1980) is a Sierra Leonean author and human rights activist who rose to fame with his acclaimed memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. His first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, was published in January 2014.
In 1991 a vicious civil war overtook Sierra Leone, the country in which he was living. The rebels invaded Beah's hometown, Mogbwemo, located in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, and he was forced to flee. Separated from his family, he spent months wandering south with a group of other boys. At the age of 13, he was forced to become a child soldier. According to Beah's account, he fought for almost three years before being rescued by UNICEF. Beah fought for the government army against the rebels. In 1997, he fled Freetown by the help of the UNICEF due to the increasing violence and found his way to New York City, where he lived with Laura Simms, his foster mother. In New York City, Beah attended the United Nations International School. After high school, he enrolled at Oberlin College and graduated in 2004 with a degree in Political Science.
During his time in the Sierra Leonean government army, Beah says he doesn't remember how many people he killed. He and other soldiers smoked marijuana and sniffed amphetamines and "brown-brown", a mix of cocaine and gunpowder. He blames the addictions and the brainwashing for his violence and cites them and the pressures of the army as reasons for his inability to escape on his own: "If you left, it was as good as being dead."
During a February 14, 2007 appearance on The Daily Show with host Jon Stewart, Beah said that he believed that returning to civilized society was more difficult than the act of becoming a child soldier, saying that dehumanizing children is a relatively easy task. Rescued in 1996 by a coalition of UNICEF and NGOs, he found the transition difficult. He and his fellow child soldiers fought frequently. He credits one volunteer, Nurse Esther, with having the patience and compassion required to bring him through the difficult period. She recognized his interest in American rap music and reggae since he was a kid, gave him a Walkman and a Run DMC cassette, and employed music as his bridge to his past, prior to the violence. Slowly, he accepted her assurances that "it's not your fault."
Living in Freetown with an uncle, he went to school and was invited to speak in 1996 at the UN in New York. When Freetown was overrun by the joined forces of the rebels (RUF or Revolutionary United Front) and Army of Sierra Leone in 1997 (the Army of Sierra Leone was originally fighting against the RUF), he contacted Laura Simms, whom he had met the year before in New York, and made his way to the United States.
"If I choose to feel guilty for what I have done, I will want to be dead myself," Beah said. "I live knowing that I have been given a second life, and I just try to have fun, and be happy and live it the best I can."
In 2009, the 29-year-old traveled home to Sierra Leone with an ABC News camera, a return that he describes as bittersweet. Later in February, 2013, he traveled to Calgary and spoke at the My World Conference.
Awards, recognition and works
A Long Way Gone was nominated for a Quill Award in the Best Debut Author category for 2007. Time magazine's Lev Grossman named it one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2007, ranking it at #3, and praising it as "painfully sharp", and its ability to take "readers behind the dead eyes of the child-soldier in a way no other writer has."
With his new novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah explores the life of a community including Benjamin and Bockarie, two longtime friends who return to their hometown, Imperi, after the civil war. The village is in ruins, the ground covered in bones. As more villagers begin to come back, Benjamin and Bockarie try to forge a new community by taking up their former posts as teachers, but they're beset by obstacles: a scarcity of food, a rash of murders, thievery, rape and retaliation; and the depredations of a foreign mining company intent on sullying the town's water supply and blocking its paths with electric wires. As Benjamin and Bockarie search for a way to restore order, they're forced to reckon with the uncertainty of their past and future alike.
Described as 'a rare look at the phenomena of homecoming and reclamation' Ishmael Beah's new novel is said to be 'written with the moral urgency of a parable and the searing precision of a firsthand account'  receiving rave reviews from The NYTimes Sunday Book Review, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.
The accuracy of the events and chronology presented in "A Long Way Gone" have been called into question, particularly the claim that Beah became a child soldier in 1993, rather than in 1995.
- Children of War (2010) documentary by Bryan Single
- Jimmie Briggs investigator and author of Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War
- P. W. Singer investigator and author of Children at War(2005)
- Beah, Ishmael (2014). Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel. Sarah Crichton Books. ISBN 9780374246020.
- Beah, Ishmael (2007). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Sarah Crichton Books. ISBN 978-0-374-10523-5.
- Beah, Ishmael (2000). When Good Comes From Bad, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
- UNICEF, Youth leadership profiles, . Retrieved February 15, 2007.
- "BEA 2013: Ishmael Beah: After War", Hilary S. Kayle, Publishers Weekly, May 30, 2013.
- James Pitkin, Willamette Week, Ishmael Beah—An ex-child soldier's trip from Sierra Leone's war to a Starbucks bookshelf., February 14, 2007. Retrieved February 15, 2007.
- Alissa Swango, NYC24, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, A Child Soldier Grows Up, 2006. Retrieved February 15, 2007.
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, February 14, 2007 .
- Gumbel, Andrew (January 24, 2007). "Long march to normal life for a former child soldier". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
- Child Soldier's Long Way Home -- ABC News
- Poniewozik, James; Top 10 Nonfiction Books; time.com
- Sherman, Gabriel; The Fog of Memoir: The feud over the truthfulness of Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone; slate.com
-  On July 3, 2009.
- United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks
- Ishmael Beah at Library of Congress Authorities, with 4 catalog records