Visiting Professor Honored

By Robert Bastone, Student Intern of CHASS College Computing

Professor Chris Abani

Dr. Chris Abani, Visiting Professor in Creative Writing, has been honored for his book titled GraceLand . Abani’s work was selected as the book of the month in January 2005 by the Today Show Book Club and was also short-listed as a finalist for the Best Book Award in the African Region for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Additionally, the work was recently announced as a finalist for the 2004 LA Times Book Prize in Fiction.

Professor Abani was selected for the Today Book Club honor by award-winning author Walter Mosley. Both authors were interviewed about the selection by the Today Show’s Ann Curry during the January 26 th program. Abani was not aware that his book had been selected as a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize until after the awards were given out. His publisher had only recently informed him. He remarked that the book has “taken on a life of its own” in that regard.

The LA Times announced the award nomination in its March 10 th edition. The winners of literary prizes in nine different categories will be announced at the awards ceremony at UCLA on April 22nd. These honors have “come as a surprise” for Abani, who does not necessarily “see himself as a professional writer.”

Abani’s GraceLand follows the story of a teenage Elvis impersonator, immersed in American Pop Culture, and trying to make his way out of the ghettos of Nigeria . The book examines the trappings of postcolonial Nigeria through the life experiences of the teenager who also must deal with abuse from an alcoholic father, as well as the chaos all around him.

The subjects addressed in GraceLand are very familiar to Abani, who lived in Nigeria from birth until his graduate studies, a time of political oppression for the people of that country. Abani himself was imprisoned for five years for political crimes relating to his published works. Many of the other themes dealt with in the book are also related to his own experiences. He commented that the “book is very personal to me.”

According to Abani, GraceLand took nine months of eight hour days to complete. After 11 drafts of the text, the book was ready for publication, and was released in a hard back form in February 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing. The paperback version was just recently released in January 2005.

Abani is currently teaching one undergraduate course and one graduate seminar in Creative Writing. He remarked that he “loves teaching” especially at UCR, because the students here are “hungry” and “want to be challenged.” He also noted that he enjoys the environment in the Creative Writing Department because the faculty members utilize each other to “learn from one another.”

Professor Abani came to UCR as a visiting Professor almost two years ago. He was invited to apply for the position by current Professor, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, and author Maurya Simon. In summer 2003, he was hired for a two-year period as a Visiting Professor. In early summer 2005, after having exhausted the two-year maximum, his tenure is scheduled to end.

Since he was first published in Nigeria at age 16, Abani has published three books of poetry and one additional novel. He is currently working on another new novel and a book of poems. In addition to his own work, Abani is editing a poetry series of selected works.

Professor Chris Abani received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature while still living in Nigeria. He also holds a Master of Arts in Gender Studies he received while studying in London, and another in English from USC. He received his PhD in English from USC in early March of 2005.

For more information of Professor Chris Abani or any of his works and awards, please visit the Chris Abani Website.

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