How to pronounce Dinaw Mengestu: dih-now men-guess-too
Dinaw Mengestuwas 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 has written for Rolling Stone on the war in Darfur, and for Jane Magazine on the conflict in northern Uganda. His writing has also appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. He is Lannan Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University.
His works include The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), How to Read the Air (2010), and All Our Names (2014). He was selected by The New Yorker as one of their "20 under 40" writers of 2010. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, 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. How to Read the Air was the winner of the 2011 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. He was also selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. 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.
After spending a number of years in New York, he now lives with his wife and son in Paris.
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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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