NU English prof recognized as top artist

Northwestern University’s Chris Abani, a poet, novelist and humanist, has been named a United States Artists 2014 Ford Fellow. The fellowship honors America’s top 50 most accomplished and innovative artists and each includes a $50,000 award.

Born to a Nigerian (Igbo) father and a white English mother, Abani was raised in Nigeria and London. The bi-cultural, bi-racial, bi-lingual nature of his upbringing is a constant theme of his poems and novels.

“His writing has the scope of a person who has lived and imagined widely,” The New York Times noted in a review of his most recent book, “Secret History of Las Vegas” (Penguin, 2014).

Through his writing and engaging TED talks and public speaking, Abani has emerged as an international voice on humanitarianism, art, ethics and shared political responsibility.  He is always at work on multiple projects.

“The award provides a generous recognition for artists like myself whose work is not mainstream and who are always pushing the limits of the art they work in,” said Abani, a Board of Trustees professor of English at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The fellowship will help fund future work, research and perhaps even collaborations, said Abani, who teaches creative writing. “Artists like myself who are lucky to enjoy the generosity of an institution like Northwestern University receive recognition. But for those artists who earn a more precarious living, the money is obviously a big bonus.”

Chris Abani on why imagination is so important and how he keeps his alive:

“The world as we know it is a product of human imagination. Without imagination there is no invention, there are no tools, there is nothing but a more instinctual place of being. The agents who work in the field of a shared imagination — intellectuals, academics, scientists, artists — these are people who push the limits and help us understand ourselves better while continuing to push back the limits of human understanding.

“It is easy to keep imagination alive for me as I work in a university around gifted academic colleagues and intelligent students. I think I just never gave up on the magic of life, the curiosity that I think drives all people who live lives of the mind.

“Every human story interests me precisely because I think every singular life is of tremendous value to us all. My books catalog many of these lives that might be ordinarily ignored.”

For a full list of 2014 USA Fellows visit www.unitedstatesartists.org/2014fellows

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