'225': Making 'Gaines'
With his first two novels, Dinaw Mengestu has already amassed an impressive list of accomplishments, including a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Lannan Fiction Fellowship, a Guardian First Book Award, inclusion on The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" list and many others. His most recent work, How to Read the Air, won the 2011 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, sponsored by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation for an outstanding work of fiction by an African-American writer. By definition, fiction tells a story, but in Mengestu's work the creative act of storytelling also reveals how his characters make sense of their lives. "We need narrative," the Ethiopia native and Georgetown alum tells 225 while on a recent trip to Baton Rouge. "We need imagination. We need to be able to construct stories out of our past. We have to invent. That's the only way we can manage our history. If we can't do that, we can't be fully alive. We can't move on with our lives. We're obligated to tell those narratives." In his first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, a cadre of exiles from various countries in Africa meet each week and play a rather macabre game of "match the country to the coup." This brutal accounting of public terror serves to obscure the private terrors that each of the men has endured in his home country and in his adopted one. Read the full story by Jamey Hatley in the current issue of 225 here.
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