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Dinaw Mengestu 
Dinaw Mengestu


NYS Writers Institute, March 13, 2014
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Standish Room, Science Library, Uptown Campus
8:00 p.m. Reading | Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Dinaw Mengestu, Ethiopian-American novelist, rising star of American literature, and MacArthur “Genius Award” winner, will read from his newest novel, All Our Names (2014), on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 8 p.m. in Campus Center 375 on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m., the author will present an informal seminar in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public, the events are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute.


Dinaw Mengestu,
Ethiopian-American novelist, is one of the rising stars of recent American literature. Recipient of a 2012 MacArthur Fellowship, Mengestu first achieved widespread international acclaim with the publication of his 2007 first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, the story of an Ethiopian grocery store owner who struggles to survive financially in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, D. C. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Illinois, Mengestu offers, in the words of the MacArthur Foundation prize jury, “a window into the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America.”

A journalist as well as a novelist, Mengestu has reported on the conflicts in Darfur for Rolling Stone, and the war in northern Uganda for Jane magazine.

Mengestu’s newest novel is All Our Names (March 2014), about an African university student who attempts to escape his violent, revolutionary past and invent a new identity for himself in America. Publishers Weekly named it a “Pick of the Week” and said in a starred review, “Mengestu portrays the intersection of cultures experienced by the immigrant with unsettling perception.” Kirkus Reviews said, “Elegiac, moving… Mengestu is alert to the nuances of what transplantation and exile can do to the spirit…,” and proclaimed that he is “among the best novelists now at work in America.”

New York Times reviewer Rob Nixon said of Mengestu’s first book, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, “This is a great African novel, a great Washington novel, and a great American novel.”  For comparison, Nixon evokes the work of Saul Bellow who, he says, “shadows these pages: the dangling men, the urban wanderings, the uncle who writes obsessive letters to the authorities. Above all, Mengestu shares Bellow’s genius for the quick, decisive physical portrait…. Yet Mengestu uses this talent to open up a wider, more diverse neighborhood of empathies.” Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, said of the novel, “Mengestu has told a rich and lyrical story of displacement and loneliness. I was profoundly moved by this tale of Ethiopian immigrant's search for acceptance, peace, and identity.”

Translated into more than a dozen languages, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears received innumerable honors including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the National Book Award Foundation “5 Under 35 Award,” and the Prix du Premier Meilleur Roman Etranger.

Mengestu’s second novel was How to Read the Air (2010), the story of an Ethiopian-American couple, their traumatic childhoods and troubled marriage, and the impact of their conflicts on the life and psyche of their American son.  Writing in the London Times, Kate Saunders called it, “A story of exile and redemption, beautifully written….” The novel was excerpted in the New Yorker, which also named Mengestu to its “20 under 40” list of young writers to watch.

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.