Imprisoned three times by the Nigerian government, Chris Abani turned his experience into poems that Harold Pinter called "the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture imaginable." His novels include GraceLand (2004) and The Virgin of Flames (2007).
Chris Abani's first novel, published when he was 16, was Masters of the Board, a political thriller about a foiled Nigerian coup. The story was convincing enough that the Nigerian government threw him in jail for inciting a coincidentally timed real-life coup. Imprisoned and tortured twice more, he channeled the experience into searing poetry.
Abani's best-selling 2004 novel GraceLand is a searing and funny tale of a young Nigerian boy, an Elvis impersonator who moves through the wide, wild world of Lagos, slipping between pop and traditional cultures, art and crime. It's a perennial book-club pick, a story that brings the postcolonial African experience to vivid life.
Now based in Los Angeles, Abani published The Virgin of Flames in 2007. He is also a publisher, running the poetry imprint Black Goat Press.
“If you want to know about Africa, read our literature — and not just ‘Things Fall Apart,’ because that would be like saying, ‘I’ve read ‘Gone with the Wind’ and so I know everything about America.’”
“Misreading is really the chance for complication and opportunity.”
“Story is fluid and it belongs to nobody.”