Maaza Mengiste Is on the January 2021 Cover of Open Country Mag

After two acclaimed books, the historical novelist is now looking to photography to chronicle Ethiopia.
Open Country Mag Reissues Cover of Maaza Mengiste
Maaza Mengiste Is on the January 2021 Cover of Open Country Mag

The first time I wrote about Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King was in 2017, two years before it came out, when she gave an interview revealing that she’d thrown away the first draft of the novel. I have been an admirer of her prose, its musicality and emotional beauty. When this book was longlisted for the Booker Prize, I felt that it was a real reward for storytellers who are unrelenting stylists.

The shortlisting of Mengiste and Tsitsi Dangarembga for the Booker Prize was the first time that two Black African women were finalists for the award. It was natural then for us at Open Country Mag—in line with our mission of recording African literary culture, re-looking at the histories, big and small, that make our present—to have them on our first two covers. Our initial plan was to put both stories out as we launched. Dangarembga was on our December 2020 cover.

Maaza Mengiste is on the January 2021 cover of Open Country Mag.
FIRST COVER: Maaza Mengiste is on the January 2021 cover of Open Country Mag.
Maaza Mengiste Is on the Jan. 2021 Cover of Open Country Mag. Reissued Cover.
Maaza Mengiste Is on the Jan. 2021 Cover of Open Country Mag. Reissued Cover.

When I first proposed this to Mengiste, I had a different idea of what this story would look like. But she shared that she had a photography archive, Project 3541, that continues her own vision of a reframed Ethiopian history, which began with her debut novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze. As we connected the threads of violence and reflection in our conversation, we were painfully aware that Ethiopia was heading towards civil war in its Tigray region.

More than just being timely reading, we hope that our record of Mengiste’s mission says something about art as an ungovernable bulwark against the encroaching gaps of history.

COVER STORY: WITH NOVELS & IMAGES, MAAZA MENGISTE IS REFRAMING ETHIOPIAN HISTORY

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One Response

  1. The Shadow King is superb. Maaza not only tells the story of the ridiculousness of war but also eloquently uncovered the contributions of Ethiopian heroines. She has an artist’s eye for describing details and a good historian’s grasp of the past. My very first Ethiopian war novel in English to read with absolute attention!
    Hats off to you Maaza. We need more.

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