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).

Why you should listen

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.

Chris Abani’s TED talks

More news and ideas from Chris Abani


3 TEDTalks for National Poetry Day

October 8, 2009

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and why not everywhere? We found out about it in the stateless world of Twitter trending topics. If you’re in the mood to celebrate, watch a few of these TEDTalks about, or featuring, poetry: “War child” Emmanuel Jal tells the story of his amazing life in words […]

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2,000 translations for TEDTalks

September 17, 2009

Late last night, TED volunteer translators Danye West and Tony Yet completed their work on Chris Abani’s 2008 TEDTalk in Simplified Chinese — and in the process, notched the 2,000th translation of a TEDTalk. Since we started TED’s Open Translation Project four months ago, we’ve been thrilled and humbled to see it grow. TEDTalks are […]

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The stories of Africa: Chris Abani on

August 14, 2009

As we end our first week of much needed vacation for the TED media team, we continue our archive highlights with a powerful and poetic talk from 2007. Nigerian author Chris Abani shares the power of the narrative in this TEDTalk. He knows that stories can change lives — the first story he wrote, at […]

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