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April 18: You HAVE to see Chris Abani

It is glib to say that Chris Abani is one of the most important Africans writing these days. No, the truth is that he is one of the most important writers today.

When: Tuesday April 18, 7:30 PM

Where: Butler University, Robertson Hall Johnson Room, 4600 Sunset Ave.

GraceLand, Abani’s chronicle of a young man coming of age in Nigeria in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was a “Today Show pick” in January 2005. Abani won the 2005 PEN Hemingway Book Prize.

Abani's story is as coloful as Graceland's protagonist, Elvis.

In 1985 the Nigerian writer Chris Abani was arrested and imprisoned for six months on suspicion of masterminding a political coup. It was suggested that the plot of his first novel, a thriller published two years earlier about the return of the Third Reich called Masters of the Board, had laid a blueprint for the coup. Abani was eighteen years old at the time. Over the next five years, Abani would be imprisoned twice more. Upon the publication of Sirocco (1987), his second novel, Abani was accused of sedition and held for one year at Kiri-Kiri, a maximum security prison in Lagos, Nigeria. Released during a general amnesty, the young writer entered university and was arrested again in 1990, after a performance of his play Song for a Broken Flute that was attended by the head of state. Abani was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, spending the next eighteen months at Kiri-Kiri-six of them in solitary confinement-until concerned friends bribed prison officials to arrange for his escape. Abani spent the next seven years in London, writing and speaking out against the regime in Nigeria. But when a neighbor was murdered in 1999, Abani fled to the United States, fearing it was a case of mistaken identity-his neighbor was the only other Nigerian in the building.

I found parts of Graceland stunning, it was one of the best I read last year. This event I am very much looking forward to. The talk is free, which is a ridiculously good deal, so use the money you save to get a copy of Graceland, you will be happy you did.

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