Helon Habila

Author of
  • The Chibok Girls
    Columbia Global Reports, 2016
  • Travelers
    Norton, 2020

Helon Habila was born in Nigeria. He worked in Lagos as a journalist before moving to England in 2002 for a writing fellowship at the University of East Anglia. In 2001, his short story, “Love Poems”, won the Caine Prize, and in 2002, his first novel, Waiting for an Angel was published. The novel went on to win the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Section) in 2003. In 2006 he co-edited the British Council’s anthology, New Writing 14.

In 2005-2006, Habila was the first Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College, New York. He stayed on in America as a professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University in Virginia. In 2007 his second novel, Measuring Time, was published. The novel won the Virginia Library Foundation’s fiction award in 2008. In the same year Habila’s short story, “The Hotel Malogo” won the Emily Balch Prize. “The Hotel Malogo” was also selected by the Best American Non-Required Reading anthology, edited by Dave Eggers.

Habila’s third novel, Oil on Water, which deals with environmental pollution in the oil rich Niger Delta, was published in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2011) and the Orion Book Award (2012). It was also a runner up for the PEN/Open Book Award (2012).

In 2011 Habila edited The Granta Book of the African Short Story. Habila has been a contributing editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review since 2004. He also teaches every summer in an annual creative writing workshop series, the Fidelity Bank Writing Workshop in his native Nigeria. Helon Habila lives in Virginia with his wife and three children.

Books by Helon

The Chibok Girls

The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria

On April 14, 2014, 276 girls from the Chibok Secondary School in northern Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram, the world’s deadliest terrorist group. Most were never heard from again. Acclaimed Nigerian novelist Helon Habila, who grew up in northern Nigeria, returned to Chibok and gained intimate access to the families of the kidnapped to offer a devastating account of this tragedy that stunned the world. With compassion and deep understanding of historical context, Habila tells the stories of the girls and the anguish of their parents; chronicles the rise of Boko Haram and the Nigerian government’s inept response; and captures the indifference of the media and the international community whose attention has moved on.

Employing a fiction writer’s sensibility and a journalist’s curiosity, THE CHIBOK GIRLS provides poignant portraits of everyday Nigerians whose lives have been transformed by extremist forces. Habila illuminates the long history of colonialism–and unmasks cultural and religious dynamics–that gave rise to the conflicts that have ravaged the region to this day.

Praise for The Chibok Girls

"This is a controlled, lucid and deeply felt account of Boko Haram’s unconscionable kidnappings. This is essential to understanding the tragedy of the Chibok girls."

Dave Eggers, author of What is the What and The Voice of Witness Reader

“Nigerian-born poet and novelist Habila seeks to remind the global community of the plight of the kidnapped girls.… an informative primer on Nigeria’s history of Islamist conflict and a passionate testimonial on behalf of the 218 Chibok girls still missing.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A dispatch from the front lines…. Habila incorporates vital background knowledge on the situation in Chibok and the surrounding area; as a poet, he adds sensitivity and eloquence, capturing the raw emotion of the wounded town.”

Publishers Weekly
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Travelers

A startlingly imaginative exploration of the African diaspora in Europe, by one of our most acclaimed international writers.

Award-winning author Helon Habila has been described as “a courageous tale teller with an uncompromising vision…a major talent” (Rawi Hage). His new novel Travelers is a life-changing encounter with those who have been uprooted by war or aspiration, fear or hope.

A Nigerian graduate student who has made his home in America knows what it means to strike out for new shores. When his wife proposes that he accompany her to Berlin, where she has been awarded a prestigious arts fellowship, he has his reservations: “I knew every departure is a death, every return a rebirth. Most changes happen unplanned, and they always leave a scar.”

In Berlin, Habila’s central character finds himself thrown into contact with a community of African immigrants and refugees whose lives previously seemed distant from his own, but to which he is increasingly drawn. The walls between his privileged, secure existence and the stories of these other Africans on the move soon crumble, and his sense of identity begins to dissolve as he finds that he can no longer separate himself from others’ horrors, or from Africa.

A lean, expansive, heart-rending exploration of loss and of connection, Travelers inscribes unforgettable signposts—both unsettling and luminous—marking the universal journey in pursuit of love and home.

Praise for Travelers

The narrator comes to know the depths of their desperation himself when, returning from Switzerland, he loses his papers and is deported to a refugee camp in Italy. “Where am I? Who am I? How did I get here?” cries one refugee, summing up the sense of dislocation and loss of identity they all feel, yet Habila never presents them as objects of pity, but rather as exemplars of human resilience. Readers will find this novel a potent tale for these times.

Publishers Weekly

Once I started reading Travelers, I couldn’t stop. It’s an unsettling book that faces the urgent questions of our times and doesn’t settle for easy answers. Yet the resilience of the characters, the mature decision to avoid melodrama, gives us a novel full of hope and wonder, tied to fully realized characters that as readers, we come to care about. I loved this book. It is indeed Habila at his best.

Leila Aboulela, author of The Kindness of Enemies and Elsewhere, Home

Urgent, deeply empathetic, and resisting easy answers, Travelers follows the interconnected lives of African immigrants and refugees in Europe and examines the meanings of freedom, diaspora and home. Habila is a masterful storyteller, and this novel a riveting testament to the power of fiction.

Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers

A moving and eye-opening novel that captures our global political moment and plumbs the many layers of life in exile, of people who are forever bereft in their 'traveling'. Helon Habila writes with the eye of a journalist, the tools of an artist, and the heart of a sober and compassionate witness.

Vu Tran, author of Dragonfish

I enjoyed Travelers immensely. Habila has written a pressure cooker of a story, an urgent novel that contends with the rootlessness of our world.

Elliot Ackerman, author of Waiting for Eden

Unforgettable. Helon Habila writes of individual lives―pulled apart by our wars, our failed states and our deepest fears―with insight and searing compassion.

Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing
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