In a feature on the American TV program PBS, the novelist Maaza Mengiste talks about her home country, Ethiopia, which she has always written about. Her family had fled the country after Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974. Although the intellectual class and citizens connected to the emperor were targeted, her family was able to leave with ease as her father was an executive at Ethiopian Airlines.
“When I started writing, I realised that my distance from Ethiopia enabled me to write,” she said. Her debut, the 2010 novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was set during the Ethiopian Revolution. After it came out, her family began to talk candidly about what happened. In 2019, she published her second, The Shadow King, which centres the women who fought during the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1937-45. She had earlier thrown away the first draft. Her essay on writing the novel was shortlisted for The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Essays & Think Pieces. The book was last year optioned for film, has won a 2020 Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is currently a finalist for the 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.
In the video, she also talks about Addis Ababa Noir, the anthology she edited, and questions of authority, her right to tell the stories, her choice of fiction. She suggests that her third novel will have a different direction.
Watch the video on PBS.