Chris Abani

Chris Abani was born in Afikpo, Nigeria in 1966.

Abani’s fiction includes The Virgin of Flames, GraceLand, Masters of the Board, and Becoming Abigail. His poetry collections are Hands Washing Water, Dog Woman, Daphne’s Lot, and Kalakuta Republic.

He is the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the PEN Hemingway Book Prize. He lives and teaches in California.

I had the opportunity to “meet” Chris Abani this summer at the Hurston/Wright writing workshop. I use the term met loosely since I never actually interacted with him, but was always in his presence. Abani will be visiting my campus this semester and as the research assistant to the person in charge of this, I have been assigned various tasks. With that being said, I just watched his June 2007 talk on TED.com. I figured it’s interesting enough to post, so here it is:

I was supposed to read Graceland last week, but decided to go out of town for my birthday celebration instead. Priorities, right? Since I didn’t go to the discussion, nor did I read the book or request a personal copy (I really wanted to though), I decided to provide you all with an excerpt for your reading pleasure.

Lagos, 1983

Elvis stood by the open window. Outside: heavy rain. He jammed the wooden shutter open with an old radio battery, against the wind. The storm drowned the tinny sound of the portable radio on the table. He felt claustrophobic, fingers gripping the iron of the rusty metal protector. It was cool on his lips, chin and forehead as he pressed his face against it.

Across the street stood the foundations of a building; the floor and pillars wore green mold from repeated rains. Between the pillars, a woman had erected a buka, no more than a rickety lean-to made of sheets of corrugated iron roofing and plastic held together by hope. On dry evenings, the smell of fried yam and dodo wafted from it into his room, teasing his hunger. But today the fire grate was wet and all the soot had been washed away.

As swiftly as it started, the deluge abated, becoming a faint drizzle. Water, thick with sediment, ran down the rust-colored iron roofs, overflowing basins and drums set out to collect it. Taps stood in yards, forlorn and lonely, their curved spouts, like metal beaks, dripping rain water. Naked children exploded out of grey wet houses, slipping and splaying in the mud, chased by shouts of parents trying to get them ready for school.

The rain had cleared the oppressive heat that had already dropped like a blanket over Lagos; but the smell of garbage from refuse dumps, unflushed toilets and stale bodies was still overwhelming. Elvis turned from the window, dropping the threadbare curtain. Today was his sixteenth birthday, and as with all the others, it would pass uncelebrated. It had been that way since his mother died eight years before. He used to think that celebrating his birthday was too painful for his father, a constant reminder of his loss. But Elvis had since come to the conclusion that his father was simply self-centered. The least I should do is get some more sleep, he thought, sitting on the bed. But the sun stabbed through the thin fabric, bathing the room in sterile light. The radio played Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic,” and he sang along, the tune familiar.

“There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air / If you listen carefully now you will hear…” His voice trailed off as he realized he did not know all the words, and he settled for humming to the song as he listened to the sounds of the city waking up: tin buckets scraping, the sound of babies crying, infants yelling for food and people hurrying but getting nowhere. (Read more…)

There are so many interesting articles, audio/video clips, and information in general for Chris Abani that you’ll probably want more than just that excerpt. Check his website at http://www.chrisabani.com/ for more.

Happy reading, ya’ll!

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4 thoughts on “Chris Abani

  1. I found out the other day that I’ll have a chance to read and discuss Graceland with a group on campus. I thought I missed the deadline, but nope…

    Virgin of the Flame sounds really interesting. Have you read the summary? (Obviously, right?)

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  2. Cool! I vaguely remember the summary. All I remember was there was a character named Black and a transvestite. That was quirky enough to make me want to read it! Hah! He’s an excellent writer, but some stuff in Graceland just didn’t add up for me.

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  3. I kept picking this book up and putting it down. Finally the other night I read the last 50 pages. The book was nothing like I expected but does give an interesting historical account of conflict in Nigeria.

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