Chris Abani was born on December 27, 1966 in Afikpo, Nigeria, to a Nigerian father and an English mother. Abani fled Nigeria with his mother and four siblings in 1968 during the Biafran War (1967–70). The family moved to England for three years, then returned to Nigeria. Abani has lived in the U.S. since 2001.
Abani published his first piece of short fiction when he was ten. He wrote and published his first novel, Masters of the Board (Delta, 1984), in Nigeria at age sixteen. The book was a thriller about an ex-Nazi officer attempting a coup in Nigeria. Its publication resulted in Abani being accused of providing instructions for General Mamman Vatsa’s conspiracy to overthrow President Ibrahim Babangida, leading to Abani being imprisoned for six months. Abani’s poetry collections are There Are No Names for Red (Red Hen Press, 2010), illustrated by the writer Percival Everett; Sanctificum (Copper Canyon Press, 2010); Daphne’s Lot (Red Hen Press, 2003); and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi Books, 2000). Abani’s other published fiction works are The Secret History of Las Vegas (Penguin Publishing Group, 2014); Song for the Night (Akashic Books, 2007), a PEN/Beyond Margins Award-winner; Becoming Abigail (Akashic Books, 2006); GraceLand (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), winner of a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; and Sirocco (Swan, 1987).
Abani’s other awards are the PEN Hemingway Book Prize (2005) and a Guggenheim Award in Fiction (2009).
Formerly a professor in the department of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, Abani is currently a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Board of Trustees Professor of English and comparative literary studies at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago.