UNCG Campus Weekly

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Award-winning writer Chris Abani visits March 22

Just after Spring Break, UNCG will host award-winning novelist Chris Abani, also known internationally for his poetry and his essays on humanitarian issues, art and political responsibility.

He is author of the recent “The Secret History of Las Vegas” and the bestselling “The Virgin of the Flames” and “GraceLand,” winner of the PEN Hemingway Award.

The lecture will take place Wednesday, March 22, in the EUC Cone Ballroom at 7 p.m., and will be followed by a book-signing.

In one of his TED talks, Abani begins with, “My search is always to find ways to chronicle, to share and to document stories about people, just everyday people. Stories that offer transformation, that lean into transcendence, but that are never sentimental, that never look away from the darkest things about us.”

Abani is from Nigeria, and grew up during the Biafran war, escaping with his family via refugee camps and later returning to Nigeria. His prolific career began when he published his first novel, “Masters of the Board” at age 16. Two years later, he was put in prison for that novel.

The poems he wrote while imprisoned were praised by Harold Pinter as “the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture imaginable.”

UNCG’s Dr. Alexandra Schultheis Moore, professor of postcolonial and global Anglophone literature, calls him “one of the most experimental and dynamic writers who can be classified in that tradition writing today.”

“He really writes to explore what he can make language do,” Moore said. “He’s always pushing against the boundaries of what is possible to represent and what is possible to say.”

Moore collaborated with UNCG fiction professor Michael Parker to bring Abani to campus. His visit to UNCG is well-timed, because, as Moore says, there is a growing interest in human rights issues in coursework across the college, including a concentration in International and Global Studies.

While Abani is at UNCG, he will talk with undergraduate and graduate students in classes. Moore is looking forward to his visit because she has seen his generosity in speaking to students.

“He’s a very brave writer, and it’s exciting to bring into the classroom,” she said. “It’s a huge treat to have someone working at his level who has so much to offer across different genres.” She expects Abani’s public lecture to be just as inspiring and engaging. “The more people bring into the room, the more he gives back.”

Moore has published articles on two of Abani’s novellas, and she’s included an essay of his in anthology she co-edited, “Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights.” One essential thing that she appreciates about his work is the way he uses storytelling. “His work shows us the way in which storytelling is necessary for navigating difficult, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly worlds,” she said.

Abani’s visit promises to be valuable for those interested in postcolonial literature and human rights, and also for creative writers.

“What I find refreshing about Abani’s work it that it speaks to political and cultural injustices not through authorial ideology but through character and landscape,” said Michael Parker. “We’re thrilled that our students will have a chance to hear him read.”

Abani is Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University, and the winner of a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award and a Guggenheim Award. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, O Magazine and Bomb, among other places. He is also an advocate of African literature, and, with Kwame Dawes, is the coeditor of a poetry series called “New Generation African Voices.”

His visit is part of the War and Peace Imagined series, and in addition to reading his work, he will discuss how literature and the arts connect us globally in unexpected ways.

The event is sponsored by the UNCG Department of English and the MFA in creative writing program.

By Susan Kirby-Smith