Helon Habila: “Religion, Politics and the Literary Landscape in Contemporary Nigeria”

With support from New Hampshire Humanities, on Wednesday, October 17th at 6:00 pm at Saint Anselm College, the Nigerian writer Helon Habila will give a talk on "Religion, Politics and the Literary Landscape in Contemporary Nigeria." Habila is an award-winning novelist, journalist, poet, and professor at George Mason University; his most recent book is a non-fiction study of the terrorist attack that resulted in the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Northern Nigeria. In The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria (2016, published by Columbia Global Reports), Habila adds an important voice and perspective to some of the most significant issues of our time: religious extremism, nationalism, and political violence.

Habila’s fiction also powerfully conveys global issues on a human scale. His most recent novel, Oil on Water (2010), draws together concerns about environmental degradation and terrorism—problems too rarely discussed in tandem. The novel’s plot deals with the kidnapping of a British executive’s wife by a militia intent upon reclaiming its land from a multinational oil company. A young journalist and his mentor go up the Niger river in search of answers. Likewise, his first novel, Waiting for an Angel (2002), is a coming-of-age story about an aspiring journalist confronting General Abacha’s military dictatorship during the 1990s. His second novel, Measuring Time (2007), steps back to the 1970s and 80s, focusing on twins whose parallel lives illustrate the continuities and fault lines between pre-colonial tradition and postcolonial modernity. His next novel, called Travelers, is due out next year.

His upcoming talk will engage with the current political climate in Nigeria as well as the most recent generation of Nigerian writers—himself included—claiming a central place in the global literary spotlight. Drawing both on his historical and political analysis of Nigerian society as well as his artistic skillset and sensibility, especially an eye for detail and an ear attuned to the subtleties of language, Habila will explore the dynamics of religious and ethnic conflict in Nigeria and the variety of ways that writers have responded to those circumstances.

Habila’s is an insider-perspective on Nigerian culture and politics, and particularly on Boko Haram’s kidnapping; he grew up in Kaltungo, Gombe State, a Northern Nigerian town less than 200 miles from Chibok. After studying English Language and Literature at the University of Jos, he moved to Lagos in 1999, where he worked as a journalist. He went on to become the first African Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia and was invited by Chinua Achebe to be the first Achebe fellow at Bard College. Such experiences, talents, and positioning enable access to information and testimonies likely not otherwise available. Across all of his work, Habila sheds new light on difficult questions with sophistication, empathy, and unflinching honesty.

This project was made possible with support from the Bean Foundation and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics as well as New Hampshire Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support provided by the departments of English, History, Politics, and Peace & Justice Studies, as well as the Conversatio program, the College Writing program, and the Intercultural Center at Saint Anselm College.

Please RSVP HERE for this free program.