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‘How to Read the Air’ Author Dinaw Mengestu Visits UW

February 5, 2014
Man smiling
Dinaw Mengestu

MacArthur “Genius” Grant Fellow Dinaw Mengestu, the current Eminent Writer in Residence in the University of Wyoming Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program, will hold public readings in Laramie and Jackson in April.

He is leading workshops with MFA creative writing students and will visit this semester with undergraduate students in the UW Multicultural Resource Center and the creative writing minor program.

Mengestu’s campus reading will be Wednesday, April 23, at 5 p.m. at the UW Art Museum. A reception and book signing will follow. He will read in Jackson Saturday, April 26, as a guest of the Teton County Public Library. Both events are free and open to the public. The time for Mengestu’s presentation in Jackson will be announced at a later time.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and raised in Peoria, Ill., Mengestu writes unflinchingly of the American immigrant and first-generation experience. His novels, “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (Riverhead Books)” and “How to Read the Air (Penguin Books),” have garnered high praise for their emotional intensity and stark lyricism.

His first novel was selected for the Guardian First Book Prize and named a New York Times Notable Book in 2007.

Mengestu also is an accomplished nonfiction writer, having covered the war in Darfur for Rolling Stone Magazine and the conflict in northern Uganda for Jane Magazine.

“I was tired of seeing the continent’s conflicts described as ‘hell’ or ‘hellish.’ Yes, there is more misery and suffering than any one person should ever have to bear but, even in the case of Darfur, that is not the entire story,” he says. “Underlying that misery and violence are remarkable people who continue to endure and survive despite their corrupt leaders.”

His forthcoming novel, “All Our Names,” due next month, will continue his exploration of individual endurance and survival in times of political unrest. Set in the 1960s and '70s in the United States and in an unnamed African country, the novel depicts the point at which post-independence optimism descends into violence and instability.

His readings in Wyoming will celebrate the arrival of his new work.

Mengestu received the Lannan Fiction Fellowship and the National Book Award “5 under 35” Award, and was selected by the New Yorker as a “20 under 40” writer. He also was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.

For more information about the reading and the Eminent Writer in Residence program, phone the MFA Program at (307) 766-6453 or visit the website at  

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