MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2012

Dinaw Mengestu


Washington, DC, France

Age: 34 at time of award

Published October 2, 2012

Dinaw Mengestu is a young writer whose novels and nonfiction pieces open a window into the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America. A native of Ethiopia who came to the United States with his family at the age of two, Mengestu composes tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are permanently seared by escape from violence in their homelands. His debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2008), is a poignant chronicle of exile that eschews sentimentality by refusing to allow its narrator—a struggling Ethiopian refugee in a gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, DC—to find an easy form of solace or redemption. In this rich and multidimensional tale, Mengestu paints a powerful portrait of lives uprooted and remade in the wake of political violence as well as the fractures and tensions that characterize rapidly changing areas of contemporary urban America. He explores the transformation of the immigrant experience through the increasing flow of information and people between their adopted homes and their countries of origin in How to Read the Air (2010), which chronicles a young man’s efforts to comprehend and come to terms with his parents’ complicated past. In addition to his fiction writing, Mengestu is also a talented freelance journalist, recently making forays into war-torn regions of sub-Saharan Africa to write about life in Darfur, northern Uganda, and eastern Congo near the border with Rwanda. Mengestu’s depictions of the loss of culture, community, and landscape endured by immigrants in America are broadening the thematic concerns and voices encompassed by the American novel.

Dinaw Mengestu received a B.A. (2000) from Georgetown University and an M.F.A. (2005) from Columbia University. His journalism and fiction have appeared in such publications as Harper’s, Granta, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and the Wall Street Journal.


High-resolution photos for download. Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.

Dinaw Mengestu In the Media

Dinaw Mengestu entre Afrique et Amérique thumbnail

Dinaw Mengestu entre Afrique et Amérique

Radio France Internationale
Dinaw Mengestu, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
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"Six of the Best African Writers" thumbnail

"Six of the Best African Writers"

Dinaw Mengestu, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
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"Big Read Author and MacArthur Fellow Dinaw Mengestu" thumbnail

"Big Read Author and MacArthur Fellow Dinaw Mengestu"

National Endowment for the Arts Podcast
Dinaw Mengestu, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
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"Dinaw Mengestu: 'Immigrant is a Very Political Term'" thumbnail

"Dinaw Mengestu: 'Immigrant is a Very Political Term'"

Deutsche Welle
Dinaw Mengestu, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
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"New Wave of African Writers With an Internationalist Bent"

The New York Times
Chimamanda Adichie, 2008 MacArthur Fellow
Dinaw Mengestu, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
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About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

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23 MacArthur Fellows Announced

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