Award-Winning Author Chris Abani World Affairs Conference Keynoter Monday, March 8

Ann Marie Park
International Education, 308.865.8944

UNK– Award-winning author and activist Chris Abani will give the keynote address for the James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs (WAC) on Monday, March 8, on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.

The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Miriam Drake Theatre, which is located in the UNK Fine Arts Building. The 2010 conference theme is “Creating Hope: Positive Responses to Global Challenges.” This year, writers, poets, activists, diplomats, scholars and entrepreneurs from Nigeria, Cuba, Oman, Russia, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, China and India will speak about initiatives currently taking place around the world that can make a difference in the lives of individuals, and in the interactions of groups, nations and states.

Abani, a Nigerian native, published his first novel, “Masters of the Board,” a political thriller about a foiled Nigerian coup, when he was 16-years-old. The story was convincing enough that the Nigerian government imprisoned him when he was 18-years-old on grounds that he had incited a real-life coup.

After serving six months in jail, Abani was released. He later performed in a guerrilla theatre group which led to his arrest and imprisonment at Kiri Kiri, a notorious Nigerian prison. Abani was released again, but after writing his play, “Song of a Broken Flute,” he was arrested and sentenced to death at Kalakuta Prison. The prison held other political prisoners and inmates on death row.

Abani was released from prison in 1991, and he lived in exile in London. When a friend was murdered there in 1999, he fled to the United States. Imprisoned a total of three times by the Nigerian government, Abani turned his experience into poems that Harold Pinter called “…the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture imaginable.”

“Happiness is learning to live with difficulty and grace,” wrote Abani. Abani is now a professor at the University of California in Riverside and a publisher at Black Goat Press. Among his other books are “GraceLand,” a story about an Elvis impersonator in Lagos. The book won the Hemingway/PEN prize. Other works include “The Virgin of Flames,” “Becoming Abigail” and “Song for Night.” All three books have been New York Times Editor’s Choice selections.

“Abani is one of the most admired novelists in the world today,” said Ann Marie Park, WAC coordinator. “He is also an evocative speaker whose keynote will mix the personal and the political. His luminous and very funny talks are a vital statement on the redemptive power of art to battle tyranny and remind us of our common humanity.”

In addition to giving the keynote address, Abani will present a creative writing workshop on Tuesday, March 9, from 9:30-10:45 a.m. in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room E. The workshop is free and open to the public. No registration required.

“Panel discussions, lectures, classroom presentations and group activities at the World Affairs Conference will give attendees exposure to a variety of issues and the opportunity to interact with distinguished guests from all over the world,” Park said.

On Tuesday, March 9, keynote speaker Tamara Banks, a U.S. journalist/activist, will speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room. Banks will discuss her motto, “one person can make a difference.” Banks combines 20 years of journalism experience to evoke positive social change both locally and globally. Using media and civic engagement, Banks trains journalists and government officials in developing democracies about the importance of a free press in a democracy.

The World Affairs Conference is traditionally sponsored on a rotating basis by one of the four UNK colleges, and is coordinated through the UNK Office of International Education. This year, the steering committee includes representatives from departments in each of the four colleges. Committee members and their departments include: Julie Agard, teacher education; Barbara Amundson, health, physical education and recreation; Dr. Will Aviles, political science; Dr. Carol Lilly, International Studies director; Park, WAC coordinator; Dr. Chris Stevens, political science; Dr. Frank Tenkorang, economics; Mark Wethington, theatre; and Bob Young, accounting/finance.

The James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, March 9

9:30-10:45 a.m.– “Positive Changes in Human Rights and Business” by Cecelia Zarate-Laun, Colombia Support Network Program director, and Kevin Ashley, U.S. businessman/entrepreneur in Africa. Ponderosa Rooms C and D.

9:30-10:45 a.m.– “Creative Writing: Open Session and Discussion with Chris Abani.”Ponderosa Room E.

11-12:15 p.m.– “Comparative Experiences in Education” by Dr. Fatma Al-Lawati, Ruwi, Oman sultanate of Oman; Dr. Ulla Aatsinki, University of Tampere in Tampere, Finland; and Maimouna Doukoure, Embassy of Cote d’ lvoire education officer. Ponderosa Rooms C and D.

11-12:15 p.m.– “Building Business in Africa” by Kevin Ashley, U.S. businessman/entrepreneur in Africa; George Ndahendekire Ndyamuba, Embassy of Uganda first secretary; Johnny Moloto, Embassy of South Africa deputy chief of mission; Tebogo Kola, Embassy of South Africa first secretary of public diplomacy. Ponderosa Rooms A and B.

3:15 p.m.– “Economics and Sustainable Development” by Mohamed Shameem Ashan, Embassy of Bangladesh political minister; Dr. Venkatachalam Lingappan, Mandras Institute for Development Studies associate professor; Dr. Hoi Quoc Le, National Economics University in Hanoi, Vietnam deputy chief editor and lecturer; and Benny Bahanadewa, Consulate of the Republic of Indonesia consul general. Ponderosa Rooms C and D.

7:30 p.m.– Keynote Address: Tamara Banks, U.S. journalist/activist. Ponderosa Room E.