Dinaw Mengestu: dih-now men-guess-too
Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980 he immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister, joining his father, who had fled the communist revolution in Ethiopia two years before.
He is a graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University's MFA program in fiction. He is the recipient of a 2006 fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He has also reported stories for Harper's and Jane magazine, profiling a young woman who was kidnapped and forced to become a soldier in the brutal war in Uganda, and for Rolling Stone on the tragedy in Darfur.
His first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), was named a New York Times Notable Book and awarded the Guardian First Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, among numerous other honors.
He was the Lannan Visiting Writer at Georgetown University for spring 2007 and received a "5 under 35" Award from the National Book Foundation.
His second book, How to Read the Air, was published in 2010.
After spending a number of years in New York, he now lives with his wife and son in Paris.
This biography was last updated on 08/21/2010.
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Dinaw Mengestu discusses many aspects of his first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
How much of your own story and your familys story is in
this novel? How did you learn about your familys experience?
The novel is definitely a blend of fact and fiction. The parts of the narrative that are true were told to me over the course of many years, sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately. As is often the case with fiction, a certain factual detail becomes the starting point from which the rest of the narrative takes off. My uncle, for example, was a lawyer in Addis, and he was arrested and died during the governments Red Terror campaign. The details of his death, however, are entirely unknown to me or anyone else in my family. Similarly, another uncle who was a teenager at the time did flee Ethiopia for Sudan during the Revolution, and while weve discussed his journey, its always in relatively vague and general terms, and thats partly where the fiction element comes. It allows you to create the details that can bring a story to life.
Why do you think that the lives of African immigrants in the United States have been so little explored in fiction ...
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