“What is profound about fiction is that it creates a place where we can imagine the possible futures of these kinds of movements. Those are the kinds of questions we have to ask as writers.”
Maaza Mengiste is a novelist and essayist whose work examines the individual lives at stake during migration, war, and exile, and considers the intersections of photography and violence. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, her critically acclaimed debut novel, was selected by The Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and was named one of the best books of 2010 by The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and other publications.
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is set in Ethiopia in the 1970s and revisits the last days of the Ethiopian monarchy and the brutal beginnings of the Derg, the socialist military junta that replaced it. The story focuses on the Hailu family as they struggle to make difficult choices within a political climate that grows increasingly complex and dangerous. Kirkus calls Beneath the Lion’s Gaze “an arresting, powerful novel that works on both personal and political levels.”
“An extraordinary novel, which assembles a dauntingly broad cast of characters and, through them, tells stories that nobody can want to hear, in such a way that we cannot stop listening.”
—Claire Messud, Bookforum
Her highly anticipated second novel is forthcoming from Norton in October 2019. The Shadow King is set during Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and tells the story of the Italo-Ethiopian war from both sides of the conflict. It revolves around an army of women who join the front lines to fight against the fascists and considers the role of photography in Italy’s colonizing effort. It will be followed by A Brief Portrait of Small Deaths, a novel set in Berlin during the interwar years.
A recipient of a 2019 Creative Capital Award and a 2018 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mengiste is also a Fulbright Scholar, a Puterbaugh Fellow, and a Runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Guardian, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, BBC Radio, and Lettre International, among other places.
Mengiste was also a writer on the documentary films The Invisible City: Kakuma, about a refugee camp in the middle of the Turkana desert in Kenya that has become the region’s fastest-growing community; and Girl Rising, which tells the stories of nine girls from developing nations around the world overcoming obstacles to education and security. Girl Rising, which features the voices of Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson, and Cate Blanchett, is part of the Girl Rising project, a global action campaign for girls’ education and empowerment.
Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and lived in Nigeria and Kenya before moving to the United States. She currently serves on the boards of Words Without Borders and Warscapes, and lectures on creative writing at Princeton.
For more information on Maaza Mengiste, please visit maazamengiste.com.