Dinaw Mengestu

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Dinaw Mengestu
Dinaw Mengestu in March 2014
Dinaw Mengestu in March 2014
Born (1978-06-30) June 30, 1978 (age 45)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
OccupationNovelist, professor of creative writing
EducationGeorgetown University (BA)
Columbia University (MFA)
Literary movementRealism, postmodernism
Notable awardsMacArthur Fellow, 5 under 35 honoree

Dinaw Mengestu (ዲናው መንግስቱ) (born 30 June 1978) is an Ethiopian-American novelist and writer. In addition to three novels, he has written for Rolling Stone on the war in Darfur, and for Jane Magazine on the conflict in northern Uganda.[1] His writing has also appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. He is the Program Director of Written Arts at Bard College.[2] In 2007 the National Book Foundation named him a "5 under 35" honoree. Since his first book was published in 2007, he has received numerous literary awards, and was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2012.[3]

Early life[edit]

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1978, during a period of political repression that became known as the Red Terror. His father, who was an executive with Ethiopian Airlines, applied for political asylum while on a business trip in Italy; Mengestu's mother was pregnant with him at the time. Two years later, when Mengestu was a toddler, he, his mother and his sister were reunited with his father in the United States.[4] The family settled in Peoria, Illinois, where Mengestu's father at first worked as a factory laborer, before rising to a management position.[4] Later the family moved to the Chicago area, where Mengestu graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois.[5]

Mengestu received his B.A. in English from Georgetown University, and his MFA in writing from Columbia University in 2005.[6]


Mengestu's début novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, was published in the United States in March 2007 by Penguin Riverhead. It was published in the United Kingdom as Children of the Revolution,[7] issued in May 2007 by Jonathan Cape. It tells the story of Sepha Stephanos, who fled the warfare of the Ethiopian Revolution 17 years before and immigrated to the United States. He owns and runs a failing grocery store in Logan Circle, then a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C. that is becoming gentrified. He and two fellow African immigrants, all of them single, deal with feelings of isolation and nostalgia for home. Stephanos becomes involved with a white woman and her daughter, who move into a renovated house in the neighborhood.

Mengestu's second novel, How to Read the Air, was published in October 2010.[8] Part of the novel was excerpted in the July 12, 2010, issue of The New Yorker, after Mengestu was selected as one of their "20 under 40" writers of 2010.[9] This novel was also the winner of the 2011 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, a literary award established by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation in 2007.[10]

Mengestu's first two novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages.[7]

In 2014, he was selected for the Hay Festival's Africa39 project as one of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with the potential and the talent to define the trends of the region.[11]

Awards and honors[edit]



  • The beautiful things that heaven bears. New York: Riverhead Books. 2007.[15]
  • Children of the Revolution, 2008
  • How to Read the Air, Penguin, 2010, ISBN 9781594487705
  • All Our Names (Knopf, 2014)



  1. ^ Mengestu, Dinaw (7 September 2006). "The Tragedy of Darfur". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009.
  2. ^ Relations, Bard Public. "Award-Winning Writer Dinaw Mengestu Named John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor in the Humanities at Bard College". www.bard.edu. Retrieved 2023-07-25.
  3. ^ "2012 MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant' Winners". AP. 1 October 2012. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Dinaw Mengestu." Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 66. Gale, 2008. Retrieved via Gale In Context: Biography database, 17 August 2019.
  5. ^ Thomas, Mike (October 20, 2012). "Writer's long road to 'genius' is a story of overcoming racism". Chicago Sun Times. Archived from the original on September 28, 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  6. ^ "Dinaw Mengestu" (alumnus profile). Columbia University School of the Arts. arts.columbia.edu. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Dinaw Mengestu". Hodder & Stoughton. hodder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016.
  8. ^ "Two Riverhead Authors: Dinaw Mengestu and Salvatore Scibona Make the New Yorker's 20 under 40 Fiction Writers to Watch" Archived 2010-06-19 at the Wayback Machine, Riverhead Books
  9. ^ "The New Yorker Excerpts Dinaw Mengestu's Forthcoming Novel 'How to Read the Air'" Archived 2011-07-15 at the Wayback Machine, Riverhead Books
  10. ^ Hatley, James. "Making Gaines" Archived 2014-06-06 at the Wayback Machine, "225", Louisiana, 22 May 2012.
  11. ^ Africa39, Hay Festival.
  12. ^ Jennifer L. Knox, "20 under 40: Q. & A. | Dinaw Mengestu", The New Yorker, 14 & 21 June 2010.
  13. ^ "The Vilcek Foundation -". www.vilcek.org. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  14. ^ Wendland, Tegan (2012-01-25). "Dinaw Mengestu Wins Ernest Gaines Literary Award". WRKF. Retrieved 2023-08-12.
  15. ^ Published in the UK as Children of the revolution (2008).

External links[edit]