MacArthur Genius Has Forest Park Roots

Dinaw Mengestu's novels focus on the African diaspora in America.

A member of the 2012 class of MacArthur Fellows - the recipients of the "Genius Grant" has roots right here in Forest Park.

According to the Forest Park Review, Ethiopian-born Dinaw Mengestu grew up on Marengo Avenue with a diverse circle of friends and an American childhood consisting of eating hot dogs and watching the Cubs.

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He graduated from Fenwick High School, which he told the Review was fairly racially segregated when he attended there in the 1990s.

He went on to earn a B.A. at Georgetown University and a master's in fine arts from Columbia University. He currently is a visiting professor in the English department at Georgetown.

The 34-year-old Mengestu crafts fiction that is deeply rooted in the struggles of Africans who came to the United States to flee turmoil in their homelands.

According to the MacArthur Foundation, his debut novel, "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears"is a poignant chronicle of exile that focuses on the life of a struggling Ethiopian refugee in a gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It was named one of 100 Notable Books of the Year in 2007 by the New York Times.

His second novel, "How to Read the Air," published in 2010, chronicles a young man’s efforts to comprehend and come to terms with his parents’ complicated past.

Mengestu's third novel, "All Our Names," is scheduled to be published next year, according to Washington City Paper.

Mengestu is also a freelance journalist who has chronicled Darfur, northern Uganda and eastern Congo near the border with Rwanda. His journalism and fiction have appeared in such publications as Harpers, Granta, The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

The MacArthur "Genius" grants, awarded by the John G. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is set up to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements. It comes with a $500,000 prize - no strings attached - paid out in quarterly installments over five years.


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