Saturday, April 19, 2008

Our April Author: Dinaw Mengestu

Some links for our reading of Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears:

For context NPR has a story on Ethiopian ex-pat artists here. You can watch video of Dinaw Mengestu give a reading (note the menu lets you can skip to the Q & A).

Tavis Smiley gets going with the author on the racial politics of the novel in this interview.
...My idea in writing the book was that, you know, I wanted to touch on as many different parts of America, I mean, gentrification, race relations, class relations, definitely relations obviously with immigrants, and also to push the idea of what it means to be an immigrant inside of America further than the stereotype of, you know, you come to America, you pull yourself up, you progress, you strive, everything is eventually going to be all right.

But characters who actually come realizing that everything's not going to be all right, they're not going to make it into the world and also to look at America very critically. I think the book spends a lot of time, you know, looking at American history, looking at American politics, race in America, and really try to see what is happening especially inside of American cities.

The book is set entirely in Washington, D.C. and inside of that little community that's rapidly gentrifying, where this historically Black neighborhood is being rapidly displaced by the new white upper-class community that's moving in. I think that's a dialog that still needs to be happening, especially right now where you can see cities transforming and changing so rapidly and, in my opinion, irresponsibly.
Meanwhile, this interview unpacks the literary references and the Guardian fleshes out his biography and explains why he received the Guardian First Book Award.

Finally, here's an article Mengestu wrote for Rolling Stone on the crisis in Darfur.

By the way, I updated our map of North America (see sidebar) so you can zoom in on Logan's Circle. The photographer responsible for the book cover shot has more pics of the neighborhood here.
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