theGrio’s 100: Novelist Dinaw Mengestu brings voices of African immigrants to light

Dinaw Mengestu

Writer Dinaw Mengestu. (Photo: MacArthur Foundation)

Who is Dinaw Mengestu?

A novelist, journalist and professor, Dinaw Mengestu, 34, has been praised for his work exploring the identities of Africans transitioning to life in America — and those still inhabiting the war-torn regions those immigrants escaped. His first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2008), has been described as “a powerful portrait of lives uprooted and remade in the wake of political violence[.]” His second novel,  How to Read the Air, was published in 2010.

Mengestu’s journalism,which focuses on conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been featured in leading publications such as The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Jane magazine and Rolling Stone.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

Born in Ethiopia, Mengestu’s unique perspective has been shaped by the fact that upon moving to America at two, he often found himself to be in an isolated position as an African immigrant. Raised in the suburbs of Chicago, the writer’s vision was honed from his experiences of isolation. Mengestu uses the observed tensions specific to Africans struggling to fit into America as a central theme of his work.

This work is so critically acclaimed for its creative vision that Mengestu was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. More commonly known as the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” this fellowship of $500,000 is awarded to those deemed by the foundation to be engaged in work of profound significance to the advancement of our society. Famously, those bestowed with this grant are free from dictates regarding how to use the sum. While their numbers have increased in recent years, African-Americans who have won this prize are few.

What’s next for Mengestu?

The married father of one has recently added teaching at Georgetown University to his list of accomplishments. Mengestu’s latest novel, All Our Names, is set to be published in late 2013. We can expect Mengestu to continue to press the public to consider the evolving experiences of Africans in America and abroad through his work.