African Woman Writer Scoops Major Fellowship Prize

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — Fellowships to 180 exceptional individuals in pursuit of scholarship in any field of knowledge and creation in any art form were announced on April 7 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Chosen from a rigorous application and peer review process out of almost 2500 applicants, the successful applicants were chosen on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

This year, Maaza Mengiste (born 1974), the sole Black African woman. captured the highly selective prize. A writer, her novels include Beneath the Lion’s Gaze (2010) and The Shadow King (2019), which was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is the story of a family struggling to survive the tumultuous and bloody years of the Ethiopian Revolution. She discusses her travails—finishing the book over 10 years—with Femi Oke on Al Jazeera’s “The Stream.” The story challenges traditional tropes of women as victims in conflict. Much of the story is inspired by Mengiste’s personal history.

Her second novel, The Shadow King (2019), is set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, shining a light on the women soldiers not usually credited in African history.

Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but left the country at the age of four when her family fled the Ethiopian Revolution. She spent the rest of her childhood in Nigeria, Kenya, and the United States.

She later studied in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar and earned an MFA degree in creative writing from New York University. 

Mengiste has also been involved in human rights work. She serves on the advisory board of Warscapes, an independent online magazine that highlights current conflicts across the world and is affiliated with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

She also serves on the Board of Directors for Words Without Borders. 

Alongside Edwidge Danticat and Mona Eltahawy, Mengiste contributed a section to Richard E. Robbins’s 2013 documentary film Girl Rising on girls’ education around the world for 10×10 Films, with narration by Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys, and Cate Blanchett.

Mengiste is currently a Professor of English at Wesleyan University.  Previously, she taught in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Queens College, City University of New York, and in the Creative Writing program at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. 

Since its establishment, the Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in Fellowships to over 18,000 individuals. Among this year’s other winners were four male African writers, and 11 African-American women. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 April 2022]

Photo: Maaza Mengiste. Credit: World Literature Today

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