2019 Nigeria Reading Tour

nigeria, july 7-12, 2019

Lines & Spaces: American Writers on Tour

A delegation of American authors January Gill O’Neil, Emily Raboteau, Tom Sleigh, and Christopher Merrill traveled to Abuja, Nigeria, July 7-12, 2019, to participate in the Abuja Literary Festival and lead a four-day creative writing workshop.

For the workshop, the Abuja Literary Society invited 36 young Nigerian writers from 10 states to meet each day from 9-4:30. The IWP writers introduced the class to the pedagogy of creative writing, to the works of various American writers, and to the business of the literary world. Emily Raboteau’s lecture about literary agents and the world of American publishing led one Nigerian participant to offer to design a website for the students’ writings. Three themes recurred in the workshop conversations: the cultural and political differences between the North and South, Islam and Christianity; the complications of desire; and the tragedy of sexual abuse. All three themes and some of the most compelling writing of the week were on display in a free-writing exercise inspired by a reproduction of a painting by the well-known Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor, which was hanging in the classroom, titled “Waiting Along The Hallway of Pleasure,” shown here:

The visiting IWP writers attended the opening ceremony of the Abuja Literary Festival, and were featured on a panel about the academic discipline of creative writing. Amara Nicole Okolo (IWP Fall Resident ’18, Nigeria) joined the delegation in presenting on panels, and Christopher Merrill participated on a panel about the responsibilities of journalists in an age of fake news:

The delegates were also interviewed by TV and print journalists:

Amara Nicole Okolo (IWP Fall Resident ’18, Nigeria) being interviewed by TV and print journalists.

IWP Director Christopher Merrill responds to questions by TV and print journalists in Abuja.


January Gill O’Neil, author of Rewilding (2018), Misery Islands (2014), and Underlife (2009), teaches English at Salem State University. She is also on the board of trustees for Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Montserrat College of Art; previously she has served as executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and was a Cave Canem fellow. Her poems and articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, Ecotone, and elsewhere. Among her honors are a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and a Grisham Writer residency at the University of Mississippi, Oxford.

Emily Raboteau is the author of the novel The Professor’s Daughter and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion, which won the New York Book Festival, and the 2014 American Book Award, among other prizes. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Best American Short Stories, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Tin House, The New York Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Guardian, Guernica, VQR, The Believer, Salon, and elsewhere. Her honors include a Pushcart Prize, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. Raboteau resides in New York City, and teaches creative writing at City College. 

Tom Sleigh's most recent books are The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees (essays), and a companion volume of poems, House of Fact, House of Ruin (2018). Other books, all awarded, include Station Zed, Army Cats, Space Walk, Far Side of the Earth, The Dreamhouse, and The Chain. His work appears in The New Yorker and Poetry, as well as The Best of the Best American Poetry, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Pushcart Anthology. He has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships and awards from the American Academy in Berlin, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Lila Wallace Fund, the Guggenheim Foundation, and two National Endowment for the Arts grants, among many others. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA Program at Hunter College and has worked as a journalist in the Middle East and Africa.

Organized and led by:

Christopher Merrill has published seven collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and translations; and six books of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars, Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, and Self-Portrait with Dogwood. His writings have been translated into nearly forty languages; his journalism appears widely; his honors include a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, numerous translation awards, and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial and Ingram Merrill Foundations. As director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa since 2000, Merrill has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to more than fifty countries. He served on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO from 2011-2018, and in April 2012 President Barack Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities. www.christophermerrillbooks.com

Happening Now

Find Us Online