Dinaw Mengestu

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  • Born: June 30, 1978
  • Nationality: Ethiopian
  • Profession: Novelist

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Dinaw Mengestu is an Ethiopian-American novelist and writer. In addition to three novels, he has written for Rolling Stone on the war in Darfur, and for Jane Magazine on the conflict in northern Uganda. His writing has also appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. He is the Program Director of Written Arts at Bard College. In 2007 the National Book Foundation named him a "5 under 35" honoree. Since his first book was published in 2007, he has received numerous literary awards, and was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2012.

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As a writer, it's a great narrative tool to have that character who is slightly detached but at the same time observant of his reality, because I think that's pretty much what being a writer is - being there, watching and internalizing. Time
As an undergraduate, I took a theology course titled Religion as Writing. If writing can be considered a form of faith, then inevitably doubt has to accompany it. Religion & God
As for most writers, language is vital for me: a writer's ability to render a fictional world - characters, landscape, emotions - into something original that alters or deepens my understanding of both literature and life. Life
Ethnic divisions can definitely be exacerbated by a lack of natural resources, but those tensions become violent when people manipulate them for their own political gain.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, the color of my skin and my rather peculiar background as an Ethiopian immigrant delineated the border of my life and friendships. I learned quickly how to stand alone. Life
History does influence our lives - every moment. We never sort of live our lives in a linear fashion. We always have these memories and these images from our past that sometimes we're not even aware of, and they sort of shape who we are. History
I couldn't be more American if I tried. I was born in Ethiopia, but I was raised and educated as an American.
I tend to write longer narrative pieces after I've finished writing a novel - when the fiction's finished and put away, and I have a chance to take all the ideas that are buried inside of my novels and work with them directly. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I told my parents I was going to be a doctor and then a lawyer, but I never believed it and never tried.
I was always curious about the anxiety a person would feel when you open your mouth and you have an accent. You could have a Ph.D. or be a lawyer, but as soon as you say something, you may be diminished in the eyes of someone else.
I wrote my first book without being to Ethiopia since I was two years old.
I'm an immigrant writer, or an African writer, or an Ethiopian-American writer, and occasionally an American writer according to the whims and needs of my interpreters.
In high school, I began to dig my way into Ethiopian history, and began to understand myself as a young man formed by multiple narratives. History
Most of my favorite writers are over forty, and so I suppose I'll only name a few of the writers whose work I find myself constantly returning to: Edward P. Jones, Marilynne Robinson, Kazuo Ishiguro, V. S. Naipaul, Toni Morrison, and Philip Roth. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
My parents never referenced Ethiopia that much, largely because of the circumstances under which we left. We left during a time of political upheaval, and there was a lot of loss that came with that, so my parents were reluctant to talk about those things. So I had, by and large, an American childhood. Time
Obviously, in marketing, the best tool is to show the autobiography in fiction. It's inevitable how that happens, but it's generic. Say I've written a story where my sister dies. 'Well, did your sister die?' No, she did not. But people use those straws to grasp at the difference between reality and fiction.
Once I began college, I was committed to writing, which I think is different from saying I wanted to become a writer. I knew I would always write; I just wasn't always sure how I would go about doing so.
Peoria is such a seemingly quintessential American city, and I had always wanted to draw on that in either my fiction or in nonfiction. The Midwest is also a landscape that I have always been infatuated with, perhaps because it's the first one I can truly remember.
Personally, it's a comfort and happiness to know that my work is taken seriously and is not marginalised and put in a box of ethnic immigrant writing in America. Happiness & Unhappiness ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
'The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears' is very much about America - it just happens to have African and Ethiopian characters, and in fact, it happens to have more characters who are not Ethiopian than who are.
'The Duino Elegies' are notoriously cryptic, and part of the reason why I have always loved them is because they invite multiple readings over the course of a lifetime.
The fact that I have always been deeply invested in politics, and African politics in particular, inevitably played a role in my first novel and, of course, in my decision to write about a handful of particular conflicts in Africa as a journalist. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The MFA program did one great thing for me: It taught me how to be a better reader and critic. Nothing I wrote during my time at Columbia remains - but learning how to really deconstruct a work of fiction - that, of course, is a permanent part of me now. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training ;Time ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The Rwandan policy of putting the genocide behind them is incredibly effective in many ways. But it's also incredibly frightening to think that this nation is being asked put this mass slaughter behind them.
When I began 'All Our Names,' I did so wanting to create parallel narratives between Africa in the nineteen-seventies and America during that same period.
When I think of my work, I'm aware that I'm American and African at all points and times. And without a doubt, my experience and understanding of America was shaped by having immigrant parents. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
When I was growing up, Forest Park was full of integrated families. It was amazing. One my best friends was Vietnamese. Another one was half-Mexican, half-black. Another one was from Colombia. Another one was born in the U.S., but his mom was from Germany and spoke with a German accent. So we all had multiple identities.
Writers, especially those of us with roots in other countries, are rarely left to ourselves. We are asked to declare our allegiances, or they are determined for us.