Born in 1978 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dinaw Mengestu immigrated to the United States in 1980 with his mother and sister, joining his father who had fled Ethiopia two years earlier.
A hugely talented writer, Mengestu has attained significant success at a young age as a novelist and journalist. He has authored two critically acclaimed novels, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007) and How to Read the Air (2010). He has written for several international publications including The New Yorker, Harper’s, Jane magazine and Rolling Stone.
His journalistic work has taken him to some of Africa’s most troubled spots including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Uganda, and the Darfur region in Sudan.
Reflecting on how he ended up as a writer, Mengestu told the New Yorker in a 2010 interview:
“I told my parents I was going to be a doctor and then a lawyer, but I never believed it and never tried. Once I began college, I was committed to writing, which I think is different from saying I wanted to become a writer. I knew I would always write; I just wasn’t always sure how I would go about doing so.”
Mengestu, who currently lives in Paris, France, is a graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University’s MFA program in fiction. He is also the recipient of a 2006 fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
In February 2011, Mengestu received the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise – a special annual award that was established to encourage and support the artistic and scientific achievements of young immigrants. The award aims to increase awareness of the notable contributions made by foreign-born scholars and artists in the United States.
In 2010, Mengestu was listed by The New Yorker magazine as one of its “20 under 40” writers to watch. His first book, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007) , won numerous awards including the UK Guardian Newspaper’s 2008 First Book Award and France’s Prix du Premier Roman Etranger (Best First Foreign Book Prize). It was listed as one of Amazon.com’s top ten novels of the year and also mentioned as one of the New York Times notable books of 2007.