- Category: PA 2011
Chris Abani in 1985, at the age of eighteen, was imprisoned after the previously supportive Nigerian government labeled his first novel a threat to national security. Upon his release, Abanai became active in a guerrilla theatre group that dared to perform plays in front of government building. This activity landed him in Kiri Kiri, a maximum-security prison. On his release, a year later, he returned to the university where he continued to write and study literature. In 1990 the production of his third play, Song of a Broken Flute, led to his arrest and conviction for treason. He was held on death row in an infamous cell for political prisoners called Kalakuta, in response to which Abank wrote his collection of poetry entitled Kalakuta Republic.
Abani now makes his home in Los Angeles where he is currently a Middleton Fellow at USC and teaches in the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. He has become an active and important member of PEN Center US West, and is a founding member of the Writer's Café. Chris Abani has received several awards including the 1983 Delta Fiction Award, the 2001 PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award and the 2001 Prince Clause Award. On the occasion of the launch of Chris Abani's book Kalakuta Republic, Harold Pinter said "Chris Abani's poems seem to me to be totally naked. In no way are they pitying, never for a moment self-indulgent. They're economic, spare, concrete and precise, and truly alarming. They also express a profound and very tough compassion for all the people he saw die, all the people he saw mutilated around him. The other point here is that although the poems are precise and specific, they definitely refer to a universal state of affairs which is, of course, man's inhumanity to man. These are not simply documentary facts, they are coherent and harmonious pieces of work, I admire this very much."