Novelist, poet Chris Abani to conduct reading Sept. 17

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August 30, 2019

By Taylor Notsch ’21

Chris Abani

Chris Abani

Three prison sentences couldn’t keep author Chris Abani from writing.

In fact, it only inspired him more.

The novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter and playwright will conduct a public reading at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, in the Gorecki Family Theater in the Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict.

The event is sponsored by the Literary Arts Institute. The reading is free and open to the public, but you must reserve a ticket in advance online or at the BAC Box Office.

Abani, who was born in Afikpo, Nigeria, published his first work of short fiction in 1978 at the age of 10. Six years later upon the release of his first full length novel, “Masters of the Board,” the Nigerian government threw him in jail for six months. The government believed his story to be a blueprint for a failed government coup.

In 1987, Abani published his second novel “Sirocco.” Again, the government sentenced him to prison. They also destroyed every copy of the book and shut down its publishing company. Abani served one year in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison.

Abani proceeded to receive a bachelor’s degree in English from Imo State University, Nigeria before being arrested once more, accompanied with a sentence to death without trial, in 1990.

With financial help from friends, Abani was able to escape and fledeto London. Here he received a master’s degree in English, gender and culture from Birkbeck College, University of London. Now safe from imprisonment, Abani moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to attend the University of Southern California, where he received a doctorate in literature and creative writing.

Abani is a strong voice for humanitarianism, ethics and shared political responsibility. His vast life experience has nurtured his most recent novel, “The Secret History of Las Vegas.” The fiction novel is a gritty, riveting and wholly original murder-mystery.

A review from Abani’s website said he “creates vivid metaphors not just with his characters, but also with a drowned town emerging from the waters of Lake Mead, a ghost town that hosts the Carnival of Lost Souls, and the city of Las Vegas, which celebrates the dark, hidden and the grotesque.”

Abani is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Graceland, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the Hurston Wright Award and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among 33 other honors/grants/awards. He is currently the Board of Trustees professor of English at Northwestern University.

His work has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Romanian, Hebrew, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Dutch, Bosnian and Serbian. His critical and personal essays have been featured in books on art and photography, as well as Witness, Parkett,The New York Times, O Magazine and Bomb.

Abani will be in residence from Sept. 15-18 at CSB and Saint John’s University.

The Literary Arts Institute (LAI) was founded in 1997 to foster creative writing, publishing and interaction between students and writers.

The LAI brings nationally recognized authors to the college for a visiting writers series, promotes literary events, holds conferences, supports publications (S. Mariella Gable Prize) and encourages the artistry of fine letterpress (Welle Book Arts Studio). With local and national partners, such as the Manitou Fund and Graywolf Press, the LAI is able to bring writers and their work together with readers on campus, in Minnesota and beyond.