22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Helon Habila

Portrait Helon Habila
© Hartwig Klappert

Helon Habila was born in Nigeria in 1967. He studied English Language and Literature at the University of Jos. In 1999 he moved to Lagos, where he wrote articles for the magazine »Hints«, and eventually became a literary editor of the daily newspaper »Vanguard«. For his short stories and poems, Habila has won several important writing competitions, including the national poetry award MUSON for his poem »Another Age«. 2000 saw the publication of his first collection of short stories: the »Prison Stories«. For »Love Poems«, one of the stories in this collection, received the famous Caine Prize for African Literature in 2001, which made Habila internationally known. »Love Poems« is about a journalist who is arbitrarily arrested and detained in Nigeria under the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha. In his prison cell he writes poems, which the superintendent confiscates and presents to the woman he loves as his own works. This episode is also the point of departure in Habila’s first novel »Waiting for an Angel« (2003). In artfully interwoven stories, told from different perspectives, Habila describes the political and social structures of his country under the rule of a dictator. For this work he received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book (Africa Region). Habila’s second novel »Measuring Time« (2006) is set in rural Nigeria and covers 100 years of the history of the country. Twin brothers are the heroes of the story. One of them writes the biography and history of the leader of his community and stays in the village where he was born, while the other becomes a soldier in Liberia. In 2011, Habila published »Oil on Water«, a genre mix combining an environmental criminal story with a political thriller which has become an international bestseller. In Germany, this novel about the kidnapping of a British woman in Nigeria was runner-up in the category International Detective Story of the German Crime Story Award. A group of rebels, who are fighting an oil company, kidnap the wife of an employee of the corporation in the Niger Delta. Two journalists try to find her, and enter a world full of violence and destruction. It is, in particular, the local population who suffers in a bitter and completely dehumanized war.

Habila is contributing editor to the »Virginia Quarterly Review«, and has published several books. His most recent project is »The Granta Book of the African Short Story« (2011). Habila’s new book, a memoir of his years in Lagos, titled, »Goodbye, Lagos«, comes out in early 2014. Helon Habila lives with his family in Virginia. He is currently a guest of the DAAD Berlin Artists’ Programme.