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Ethiopian-born writer picked for ‘genius’ prize

Dinaw Mengestu

Dinaw Mengestu

GIN — Dinaw Mengestu, born in Ethiopia and raised in the United States, was among the list of awardees of the prestigious “genius grant” for his novel writing.

Mengestu, 34, was raised in Peoria and, later, the suburbs of Chicago. He received his B.A. in English from Georgetown University and his MFA in fiction from Columbia University.

He was one of 23 awardees announced today by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each will receive a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant over the next five years to allow them “unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create and explore.”

Author of novels “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” and “How to Read Air,” Mengestu “enriched (the) understanding of the little-explored world of the African Diaspora in America in tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are seared by escape from violence in their homelands,” said the Foundation.

“The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,” his debut novel about Ethiopian immigrants forging a new life in Washington, D.C., won the L.A. Times Book Prize for first fiction in 2007 and Mengestu was named one of the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 in 2010.

“Part of what the MacArthur fellowship does is remind me that the work I’ve done is relevant — not necessarily what I write about, but the people who populate my work,” Mengestu said of the award. “That those people have a significance that sometimes might be overshadowed or lost in the larger narrative of the world, and it’s important to keep writing out of those experiences.”

 A full list of prizewinners can be found at www.macfound.org/programs/fellows

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