Chris Abani

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Chris Abani
Chris Abani (32683010407).jpg
Abani in 2019
Christopher Abani

27 December 1966 (1966-12-27) (age 56)
EducationImo State University
Birkbeck College, University of London
University of Southern California
Occupation(s)Author, poet, professor
Notable work
The poem "Ode to Joy" on a wall in the Dutch city of Leiden

Christopher Abani (born 27 December 1966) is a Nigerian-American and Los Angeles- based 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, Ebonyi State, Nigeria. His father was Igbo, while his mother was of English descent.[1]

Abani published his first novel, Masters of the Board, in 1985 at the age of 16.[2] 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.[3] He continued to write after his release from jail, but was imprisoned for one year after the publication of his 1987 novel Sirocco.[4] During this time, he was held at the infamous Kiri Kiri prison, where he was tortured.[5] 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.[6] However, his friends had bribed government officials for his release in 1991, and immediately Abani, his mother, and his four siblings moved to the United Kingdom, living there until 1999.[7] He then moved to the United States, where he now lives.[8]

Education and career[edit]

Abani holds a B.A. degree 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.[citation needed]

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 to 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.[9]

His book of poetry, Sanctificum (2010) which was published by Copper Canyon Press, 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.[10] 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.[11]

Abani's crime novel The Secret History of Las Vegas won the Edgar Award as Best Paperback Original in 2015.[12]

In summer 2016, a broad selection of his works was 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]




  • 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)

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2001, Abani received a Middleton Fellowship from the University of Southern California.[13] In 2003, he received the Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship,[14] as well as the Hellman/Hammet Grant from Human Rights Watch.[15]

In 2006, Becoming Abigail was named an Editor's Choice book for The New York Times,[16] and a Critic's Choice for Chicago Reader.[17] It was also a book club selection for Essence Magazine[18] and Black Expressions.[19]

In 2007, The Virgin of Flames[20] and Song for Night[21] were Editor's Choice picks for The New York Times. The Virgin of Flames was also a Barnes & Noble Discovery Selection,[22] and Becoming Abigail was a New York Libraries Books For Teens Selection.[23]

In 2008, Abani received a Distinguished Humanist Award from the University of California, Riverside.[24]

In 2009, Abani received a Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction.[25]

Awards for Abani's writing
Year Title Award Result Ref.
2001 PEN USA West Freedom-to-Write Award [26]
Prince Claus Award for Literature & Culture [27]
2002 Imbongi Yesizwe Poetry International Award [25]
2005 "Blooding" in StoryQuarterly Pushcart Prize Nominee [28]
GraceLand PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel Winner [25][29]
GraceLand Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Novel Winner [30][31]
GraceLand California Book Award for Fiction Silver Medal [32]
GraceLand Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction Finalist [33]
GraceLand Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Books (Africa Region) Finalist [34]
2006 "A Way To Turn This To Light" Pushcart Prize for Poetry Nominee [35]
GraceLand International Dublin Literary Award Shortlist [36]
2007 Becoming Abigail PEN/Beyond Margins Award Finalist [37]
Sanctificum Pushcart Prize for Poetry Nominee [38]
2008 Song For Night PEN/Beyond Margins Award Winner [39]
The Virgin of Flames Lamada Award Nominee [40]
2009 Song For Night St. Francis College Literary Prize Shortlist [41]
2015 The Secret History of Las Vegas Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Paperback Original Winner [42]

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 [sic] 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. ^ "Chris Abani - Chris Abani Biography - Poem Hunter". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  3. ^ "Abani, Chris 1967- |". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  4. ^ Ace, Micheal (19 July 2019). "Chris Abani | What You Need To Know About The Nigerian-American Legend". ACEworld Publishers. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  5. ^ "Chris Abani". Poetry Out Loud. Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  6. ^ Foundation, Poetry (28 May 2020). "Chris Abani". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  7. ^ Bookman, Ariel (2011). "Abani, Chris". doi:10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.48083. ISBN 9780195301731. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  8. ^ Chris Abani. Poetry Foundation.
  9. ^ "Northwestern Announces Professorships" Archived 28 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Northwestern University, 27 June 2013.
  10. ^ "Renowned Writer in Africa - Sabi Writers". Sabi Writers. 15 October 2018. Archived from the original on 18 July 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  11. ^ "Chris Abani". Spoken Word Archive. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Category List – Best Paperback Original | Edgars Database".
  13. ^ Pokala, Krishna; Girard, David; Beydoun, Said R (2016). "Different Presentations of Myelopathy—A Case Series". US Neurology. 12 (1): 22. doi:10.17925/usn.2016.12.01.22. ISSN 1758-4000.
  14. ^ "Lannan Foundation". Lannan Foundation. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Contemporary Poetry". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  16. ^ "Chris Abani". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  17. ^ Athitakis, Mark (30 March 2006). "Chris Abani". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  18. ^ "Chris Abani". Brown Girl Reading. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  19. ^ Abani, Chris (March 2006). Becoming Abigail. ISBN 978-1-888451-94-8.
  20. ^ "Editor's Choice". The New York Times. 4 February 2007. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  21. ^ Casey, Maud (16 September 2007). "Broken Boy Soldier". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  22. ^ "The Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani: 9780143038771 | Books". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Editorial Empatia". Editorial Empatia. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  24. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Chris Abani". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  25. ^ a b c "Guernica and the DISQUIET: International Literary Program Award". Guernica. 31 January 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  26. ^ "Chris Abani". Official site of Chris Abani. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  27. ^ "Chris Abani". Department of English: Northwestern University. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Community of Writers". Community of Writers. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  29. ^ "PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel". PEN America. 23 March 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  30. ^ "Hurston/Wright Legacies for the Year". Shelf Awareness . 4 November 2005. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  31. ^ "Chris Abani, Blackbird". Blackbird. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  32. ^ "Faculty Biographies | Master of Fine Arts in Writing". Pacific University. 27 September 2017. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  33. ^ "2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize - Fiction Winner and Nominees". Awards Archive. 25 March 2020. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  34. ^ "Chris Abani: I'm as guilty as Achebe". The Sun Nigeria. 6 April 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  35. ^ "Poets – Vandal Poem of the Day". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  36. ^ "2006 Shortlist". International DUBLIN Literary Award. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  37. ^ "Writers at Newark Reading Series: Adrian Matejka and Chris Abani | Rutgers University - Newark". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  38. ^ "Featured Poets | 2010 | Biennial Festivals | Programs | Split This Rock". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  39. ^ Journal, Library. "Book News: PEN American Center Selects Beyond Margins Award Winners". Library Journal. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  40. ^ "April 2019". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  41. ^ "St. Francis College Literary Prize; NAIBA Book Awards". Shelf Awareness. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  42. ^ "Awards: Edgar Winners; Ridenhour Book". Shelf Awareness. 1 May 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2022.

External links[edit]