22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Ishmael Beah

Portrait Ishmael Beah
© Hartwig Klappert

Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980. When the civil war broke out and his village of Mogbwemo was overrun and his family killed, he fled to the south with some other youths. He was forced by the military to fight as a child soldier against the rebels, but escaped with the assistance of UNICEF and was sent to a rehabilitation centre. Eventually he made his way to New York, where he earned his high school diploma at the United Nations International School. He went on to study political science at Oberlin College in Ohio. Beah has recounted his experiences in presentations to countless organisations, committees and think tanks, including the »Young Voices« conference held by the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations.

His autobiographical work »A Long Way Gone. Memoirs of a Boy Soldier« (2007) presents a stirring portrait of his uprooting, the hopelessness and the ever-present danger. He depicts the shocking violence as unflinchingly as he does the confusion, nightmares and feelings of guilt that accompanied his re-integration into society. Yet despite his traumatic experiences, he finds an abiding hope in the peaceful future to which he has dedicated himself ever since. His memoirs have been translated into more than thirty languages and more than 1.5 million copies have been sold. In his début novel »Radiance of Tomorrow« (2014) he now tackles the conflict and raises questions about the constancy of values. Returnees find their village Imperi utterly devastated and full of corpses. Soon the nearby diamond mines provide fertile ground for corruption and exploitation. Hope, says the grandmother in the dialogue from which the title is taken, radiates from the future, in which one sees a better person than in retrospect, looking back at the horrors of the past. In his foreword, Beah explains that he composed his first novel largely in the oral tradition of his homeland, which hews closely to his mother tongue of Mende. Dave Eggers wrote a piece on the autor for »Vanity Fair« in which he describes him as the »arguably the most read African writer in contemporary literature«.

Beah works for the NGO Human Rights Watch and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Children Affected by War and an advisory board member at the Centre for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee. He teaches at the Centre for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University and Rutgers University. He also founded the Ishmael Beah Foundation (IBF), which is dedicated to the integration of traumatised children and youths. Beah lives in New York.