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Chris Abani's GraceLand Honored

UCR Visiting Professor Wins Prestigious Hemingway/PEN Fiction Award

Chris Abani’s GraceLand Also Nominated for Los Angeles Times Honor

(March 18, 2005)

GraceLand coverEnlarge

GraceLand cover

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- Writer Chris Abani, a visiting assistant professor at UC Riverside, is the winner of the 2005 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for his novel GraceLand. The prize will be presented April 10 in Boston.
The same novel is on the short list for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction and a finalist in the Best Books Category (Africa Region) of the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

GraceLand, published last year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is the story of Elvis, a teenage Elvis Presley impersonator struggling in the swampy underworld of Lagos, Nigeria, to find a way out of the ghetto where he was born. Abani steeps Elvis in rhythms of reggae and jazz and images from American film and popular culture.

“Chris Abani has become a favorite professor among our students, for his innovative techniques in teaching,” said Susan Straight, co-chair of the UCR Department of Creative Writing. “He has students listen to music, build houses of cards, and think about the structures of poetry and fiction. He is truly gifted as a poet and novelist, and we're thrilled to have him teaching here.”

Patrick Hemingway, the son of Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway, will present the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award to Abani at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where Ernest Hemingway’s papers are archived. The late Mary Hemingway, the wife of Ernest Hemingway, founded the award in 1976.

Finalists for the award were Laurie Lynn Drummond for Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You (Harper Collins); and Samina Ali for Madras on Rainy Days (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Runners-up were Jerome Richard for The Kiss of the Prison Dancer (The Permanent Press) and Hannah Tinti for Animal Crackers (The Dial Press). Abani wins a cash prize of $8,000. He and the finalists and runners-up receive Ucross Residency Fellowships at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers.

Presentation of the awards is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, PEN New England, the Friends of the Hemingway Collection, The Boston Globe, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society and the Ucross Foundation.

The names of the finalists -- 45 in nine categories -- for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced March 9 at the National Arts Club in New York. Hosting the reception were Times Editor John Carroll; Kenneth Turan, Director of the Book Prizes and Times film critic; and Times Book Editor Steve Wasserman.

The prizes, each including a $1,000 cash award, will be presented April 22 at UCLA's Royce Hall. Besides Abani, the finalists for fiction are Russell Banks, The Darling (HarperCollins); Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Colm Toibin, The Master: A Novel (Scribner); and Joy Williams, Honored Guest: Stories (Alfred A. Knopf).

Chris Abani's poetry collections include Dog Woman (Red Hen, 2004), Daphne’s Lot (Red Hen, 2003) and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001). When not teaching at UCR he teaches in the MFA Program at Antioch University in Los Angeles.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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