Chris Abani

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Chris Abani
Chris Abani by David Shankbone.jpg
Abani in 2007
Christopher Abani

27 December 1966 (1966-12-27) (age 52)
Afikpo, Nigeria
OccupationAuthor, poet, professor
The poem "Ode to Joy" on a wall in the Dutch city of Leiden

Christopher Abani (born 27 December 1966) is a Nigerian and American author. He says 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".


Abani was born in Afikpo, Nigeria. His father was Igbo, while his mother was of English descent.[1]

He published his first novel, Masters of the Board, in 1985 at the age of 16. It was a political thriller, the plot of which was an allegory based on a coup that was carried out in Nigeria just before it was written. He was imprisoned for six 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 1987 novel Sirocco. 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.[2] He then moved to the United States, where he now lives.[3]

Education and career[edit]

Abani holds a B.A. in English and Literary Studies from Imo State University, Nigeria; an M.A. in Gender and Culture from Birkbeck College, University of London, an M.A. in English from the University of Southern California; and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Southern California.

Abani has been awarded a PEN/Barbara Goldsmith 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. From 2007–2012, he was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. He is currently a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.[4]

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.[5]

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.

In summer 2016 a broad selection of his works has been published in Israel by the small independent publishing house Ra'av under the title "Shi'ur Geografia" (Hebrew for: Geography Lesson) edited by Noga Shevach and the poet Eran Tzelgov. The collection received great reviews and offered Hebrew readers a first encounter with the poetry of Abani.

Published works[edit]



  • Becoming Abigail (Akashic Books, 2006)
  • Song For Night (Akashic Books, 2007)


  • Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001).
  • Daphne's Lot (Red Hen Press, 2003)
  • Dog Woman (Red Hen Press, 2004)
  • Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
  • There are no names for red (Red Hen Press, 2010)
  • Feed me the sun (Peepal Tree Press, 2010)
  • Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)


  • The Face (Restless Books, 2014)

Honors and awards[edit]


  • PEN USA West Freedom-to-Write Award, US
  • Prince Claus Awards.
  • Middleton Fellowship, University of Southern California, US


  • Imbongi Yesizwe Poetry International Award, South Africa.


  • Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, US
  • Hellman/Hammet Grant from Human Rights Watch, US



  • 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).


  • New York Times Editor's Choice (Song for Night)
  • Finalist, PEN/Beyond 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)


  • Winner, PEN/Beyond Margins 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)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Timberg, Scott (18 February 2007). "Living in the 'perfect metaphor'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 January 2009. But even before he became one of the rare Ugandans 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.
  2. ^ "Oxford AASC: Home". Retrieved 2017-02-18.
  3. ^ Chris Abani. Poetry Foundation.
  4. ^ "Northwestern Announces Professorships", Northwestern University, 27 June 2013.
  5. ^ Sanctificum. Copper Canyon Press.

External links[edit]