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Chris Abani Wins Beyond Margins Award

Chris Abani Wins Beyond Margins Award

UC Riverside professor is honored for his novel about a West African boy soldier.

(May 16, 2008)

Christopher AbaniEnlarge

Christopher Abani

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Christopher Abani, professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, has won a PEN/Beyond Margins Award for his novel, “Song for Night.”

The award celebrates outstanding books by writers of color published in the United States during the previous year. It is sponsored by the PEN Open Book Program, which encourages racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities.

Abani said receiving the PEN Beyond Margins Award is a significant honor, “largely because it is aimed at work which for various reasons may not find easy recognition elsewhere. It is particularly pleasing since my novella, ‘Becoming Abigail,’ was a finalist for the same award last year. PEN is a writer’s organization, the premier one in the world, and an award from them is the highest peer compliment and recognition a writer could hope for.”

Both the author and the work are richly deserving, said Charles Whitney, chair of the UCR Department of Creative Writing.

“As usual, Abani’s prose is haunting and unforgettable,” he said.

A native of Nigeria, Abani is the author of “The Virgin of Flames,” “GraceLand,” “Masters of the Board” and “Becoming Abigail,” and four collections of poetry. He has received the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the PEN Hemingway Book Prize.

“Song for Night” is the story of a West African boy soldier whose vocal chords have been cut and his search for his lost platoon.

“When I wrote ‘GraceLand’ in 2003, I realized that there were many stories that got truncated in that novel,” Abani said. “The character in ‘Song for Night’ emerged from the shadows of that novel asking for his own book. He was so persistent, he got one. The book is in a way about crossing over to the other side and my mother read it on her death bed last year, just as it came out — a heartbreaking blessing for me. Even though it is a difficult book about a boy soldier in a West African war, it is really a book about hope, about love and the possibility for true transformation. I hope readers see that. That happiness is learning to live with difficulty and grace.”

“Song for Night” has received critical acclaim. The Los Angeles Times called it “a devastating portrait of a boy holding onto the shreds of his innocence during a war that deliberately, remorselessly works to yank it away.”

Dave Eggers, a San Francisco novelist and editor of McSweeney’s magazine, said, “If you want to get at the molten heart of contemporary fiction, Abani is the starting point.”

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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