Mengestu, a former student of the Georgetown English Department, was the
Lannan Visiting Writer for Spring 2007. He taught one course in the
writing of fiction, gave a reading from his work, and joined in other
Department and Lannan Programs activities.
Born in Ethiopia, Dinaw Mengestu moved to the United States
at an early age. He has an MFA from the Columbia University School of
the Arts, and a BA from Georgetown (class of 2000).
On assignment from rom Rolling Stone magazine, Dinaw
Mengestu traveled to Darfur this past spring to report on fighting that
has killed more than 200,000 people. The article which he produced, “The
Tragedy of Darfur,” and is circulating widely on the internet. Clearly a
writer destined for a wide readership, Mengestu’s first novel, The
Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, was published early in 2007. It
tells the story of Sepha Stepahano. After witnessing his father being
beaten to death during the Ethiopian Revolution. Sepha immigrates to
the United States, but finds a different kind of desolation working at a
grocery store in an impoverished neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
Eventually he begins to assemble a group of people who resemble a
community, but once again his "family" is threatened--this time by a
series of racially charged incidents.
In a long article for the the Washington Post for 1 March
2007 Bob Thompson wrote of Dinaw’s teaching semester at Georgetown, his
experiences as an Ethiopian student and writer, and quoted Norma
Tilden’s typically succinct evaluation of his work as an undergraduate:
“...it was just clear that he was really good.” At the end of
his review of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears for The
New York Times [25 March 2007] Rob Nixon concluded with this: “In
Mengestu’s work, there’s no such thing as the nondescript life. He
notices, and there are whole worlds in his noticing. He has written an
novel for an age ravaged by the moral and military fallout of
cross-cultural incuriosity. In a society slick with ‘truthiness’ – and
Washington may be the capital of that – there’s something hugely hopeful
about this young writer’s watchful honesty and egalitarian tenderness.
This is a great African novel, a great Washington novel and a great