Helon Habila

Author of
  • The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
    Columbia Global Reports (December 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: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria

"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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Buy The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria


In his new novel, TRAVELERS, to be published by W.W. Norton in 2020, Habila interweaves the themes of travel and exile into a powerful narrative of two women who, in returning to Nigeria, are caught between the pull of home and the promises and challenges of the new world.

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