Uzodinma Iweala:Writer Extraordinaire

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Asked at an interview if he ever thought his novel, which he has gotten international acclaim, ‘Beasts of No Nations,’ written in 2005, would become a movie someday, the tall dark articulate writer, Uzodinma Iweala had responded, “I didn’t.” Well,  the book did, and has become so famous briningingrecognition to its author! It also won him the Hoopes Prize and Dorothy Hicks Lee Prize for most outstanding thesis regarding African or African American literature.  The initial story he had written while he was 14, 15 years old, growing up in Washington DC. An article in Washington post on child soldiers had inspired the writer.

Iweala was born November 5, 1982, and is the son of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former finance minister. An American Nigerian, physician and writer, his debut novel, Beasts of No Nation, had originally started off as a thesis work (in creative writing) at Harvard. The story tells of the struggles of a child soldier in an anonymous African country. The book went on to the status of a movie and wasadapted as an award-winning film in 2015. It was mentioned by Time Magazine, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Times and Rolling Stone.

Iweala attended St. Albans School in Washington D.C. and then went on to Harvard College with an A.B., magna cum laude, in English and American Literature and Language, in 2004. At Harvard, he received the Hoopes Prize and Dorothy Hicks Lee Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis, in 2004; Eager Prize for Best Undergraduate Short Story in 2003; and the Horman Prize for Excellence in Creative Writing, in 2003. He also attended and graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2011 and is presently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

His awards include but are not limited to; 2006, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. In 2007, he was named as one of Granta magazine’s 20 best young American novelists, the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction from the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize from Booktrust, and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The work of fiction that brought him so much acclaim and allows us to celebrate him as a Nigerian in diaspora, Beasts of No Nation got its name from the popular late Yoruba musician; Fela Kuti’s 1989 album with the same name. The book was turned into a movie in the year 2015. It narrates the life of a young boy called, Agu, who after losing his family, is forced to join a group of soldiers in an anonymous West African country. That would be the end of his childhood as he knew it, as war raged through his country, he struggles with his fear for his commander (played by Idris Elba) and many of the men around him. The feature film was adapted by Cary Fukunaga, with Abraham Attah as Agu and premiered on Netflix in 2015.

In an online interview with a magazine Ventures, the writer was asked if he ever thought the novel which he wrote as a thesis while in school will become a movie someday, to which he responded, “I didn’t. Beast of No Nation, the novel was published almost exactly 10 years ago – 2005. It was developed from my senior thesis in Harvard University. I said before when I was writing it there were couple of things – the story, issue of child soldiers on the continent of Africa was what I really wanted to understand a lot better. And from what I was reading around, there were a lot of newspaper articles and human rights reports, but there weren’t so many books that really got into the emotionality of the subject matter.”

And on why he chose to write about child soldiers he had said, “… I think later in life when I had the chance in the college to understand a little bit more about conflict on the continent of Africa and how we dealt with it as a society, and I got more exposure to different forms of literature around conflicts in the continent, that prompted me to try and make this into a much longer, more exploratory and more detailed work about child soldiers.

In addition to his writing Iweala is accomplished in several other ways, he has worked on public health issues in sub-Saharan Africa, been an advisor to Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela as part of Virgin Unite’s Elders initiative. He also worked as executive editor of Nigeria based Farafina Magazine. Iweala  also is co-founder of TSG Biofuels, a Nigerian alternative-energy company. And with his uncle it is said, will launch the first pan-African business magazine titled Ventures.

Among other books written is a non-fiction book titled; Our Kind of People: A Continent’s Challenge, A Country’s Hope (HarperCollins, 2012) on Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS crisis.Iweala  currently resides in the United States.

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