Abani was born in Afikpo, Ebonyi State on December 27, 1966 to an Igbo father and English mother. His father and mother met at the University of Oxford, where she was a secretary and he was a student. In 1968, Chris, his mother and four siblings left Nigeria during the civil war. They lived in England for three years before returning home.
Abani’s mother introduced him to authors such as James Baldwin and William Butler Yeats and encouraged him to write. He began writing when he was six and, at sixteen, wrote his first novel, Masters of the Board (1985). The novel tells of an attempt by an ex-Nazi officer to seize power in Nigeria, ostensibly an allegory for a failed coup that had taken place in the country just before it was written. As a result, the military authorities sent Abani to prison for six months. He was also imprisoned for a year after the publication of his novel Sirocco (1987).
After his release from jail, he wrote many anti-government plays that were performed on the streets near government offices. He was imprisoned a third time and was placed on death row. He was released in 1991 and relocated to the United Kingdom, where he lived until 1999. He then moved to the United States and is currently a professor at the University of California, Riverside.
Abani is best known for his 2004's PEN/Hemingway Award-winning novel Graceland. His other prose includes Song for Night (2007), The Virgin of Flames (2007), Becoming Abigail (2006), and The Secret History of Las Vegas (2014).
His poetry collections include "Sanctificum" (2010), Feed Me The Sun - Collected Long Poems (2010), "Hands Washing Water" (2006) and "Kalakuta Republic" (2001). Abani is the recipient of many awards, honours and fellowships, including the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, a Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Open Book Award (formerly the Beyond Margins Award) and a Guggenheim Award.
Abani holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Master’s degrees in Gender and Culture and in English, and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California.
Watch: Chris Abani in conversation with Walter Mosley
- Chris Abani's official website
- The LA Times
- The Chris Abani Bibliography
- Poetry Foundation