Boundless: Africa

African writers discuss how politics impact and shape their work

Boundless: Africa

The Cheuse Center is honored to be partnering with the Kennedy Center, the Carmago Foundation and the Caine Prize for African Writing on a distinctive literary mini-series called Boundless: Africa

The special program combines performances, panel discussions, and readings, which will be held at the Kennedy Center’s REACH campus in Washington, D.C. and at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Featuring playwrights, poets, and writers of African heritage living in Africa and the Diaspora including the United States, the series brings to the forefront relevant issues that inform the boundaries separating genres, art forms, geography, and time.

On Tuesday, February 4, the Cheuse Center will be hosting a discussion as part of this event titled Unbound: African writers discuss how politics impact and shape their work. The event will be a conversation moderated by Helon Habila, the award-wining writer and Mason Professor and featuring the authors:

Gbenga Adesina
Panashe Chigamudzi
Ahmed Naji
Ladan Osman

The discussion will take place from 1:30-2:45 in Merten Hall, Room 1201. You can find the schedule for the other Boundless: Africa events taking place on February 4th and 5th on the Kennedy Center's website.

And below are the bios of the participating authors for this event.

Gbenga Adesina is a Nigerian poet and essayist. His many subjects include memory, grief, violence, joy, complex joy, the minutiae of love and of home, the sea as archive and as history, migration, and the intimacy and violence of journeys. Matthew Zapruder, poetry editor of the New York Times, selected Adesina’s poem “How to Paint A Girl” for its “empathy and insight into the suffering of another.” Adesina has received fellowships and scholarships from Poets House, New York; the Norman Mailer Center, Newtown, PA; the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA; the Open Society Foundation on Gorée Island, Senegal; Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at Oxford; and New York University. He was a joint winner of the 2016 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and the 2019 Palette Poetry Spotlight Award. He is currently the Olive B. O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University, where he teaches a poetry class called “Song of the Human.”

Panashe Chigumadzi is an essayist and novelist. Her 2015 debut novel, Sweet Medicine, won the 2016 K. Sello Duiker Literary Award. Her second book, These Bones Will Rise Again, was shortlisted for the 2019 Alan Paton Prize for Non-fiction. Chigumadzi was the founding editor of Vanguard Magazine, a platform for young black women coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa. She is also a columnist for the New York Times and a contributing editor at the Johannesburg Review of Books, and her work has been featured in The Guardian, Chimurenga, Africa is A Country, Transition, the Washington PostDie Ziet and other publications. She is a doctoral candidate in Harvard University’s departments of African and African American Studies and Comparative Literature.

Helon Habila is a professor of creative writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He was born in Nigeria and worked as a journalist before moving to the U.S. He is the author of four novels: Waiting for an AngelMeasuring TimeOil on Water, and Travelers. Habila edited The Granta Book of The African Short Story, and his nonfiction work, The Chibok Girls, focuses on the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists in northeastern Nigeria in 2014. He is a regular contributor to the The Guardian and is a contributing editor to the Virginia Quarterly Review. Habila’s work has won many awards including the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region), The Virginia Library Prize for Fiction, and the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize.

Ahmed Naji, a writer from Egypt, is presently a fellow at the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas. His work touches on a variety of themes, including sci-fi, Islamic methodology, sex, friendship, prison literature, music, magic, and masculinity. Naji’s novel, Using Life, was among the “Tales of a Fantastic Future” shortlisted by the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards (2018). The work also led to a two-year prison sentence in Egypt for obscenity and disturbing public morals. Naji served a year of his sentence and was honored by the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award (2016).‎

Ladan Osman is a Somali-born poet and essayist who now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Exiles of Eden (2019), a work of poetry, photos, and experimental text; The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony (2015), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize; and the chapbook Ordinary Heaven, which appeared in the boxed set Seven New Generation African Poets (2014). Her writing is a lyric and exegetic response to problems of race, gender, displacement, and colonialism. She examines existence in roles where imagination around female ability is limited, in the many spaces where women are so often denied automatic credibility and their logic is assumed fallible. Much of her writing is concerned with the question of testimony: Whose testimony is valid? Whose testimony is worth recording? Her essay “On Not Writing” is a provocative testament to her experiences and dual identity.  Osman has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, the Luminarts Foundation, and the Michener Center for Writers, among others. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and has been translated into more than 10 languages. Osman’s writing and photographs have appeared in Columbia Poetry ReviewPrairie SchoonerRoarRumpusTransition, and the Washington Square Review. She is a contributing culture editor at the Blueshift Journal.